SEGA/NEC Avenue - 1989 - Japan
My journey to acquire Altered Beast CD was a lethargic one. After all, phrases like "wasted opportunity" are constantly tossed around in discussions of the title. I'd even been told the game freezes mid-level in order to load from the CD. I already owned the cart version, so CD seemed pretty superfluous to me. It wasn't until brother IvaNEC brought word the CD wasn't a total waste after all that I even considered picking it up. While there's no question Altered Beast CD could have been much more than it turned out to be, it is more fleshed out than its cartridge counterpart and I think I like it just a little bit more.
It's also a fair bit easier, which may appeal to players who dislike the cart based on the high difficulty level. The Duo port of Altered Beast has long been chastised for its difficulty and lack of parallax. Well, the difficulty level here isn't really all that bad and I can't help but point out the arcade original didn't have any parallax either. In many ways, the Duo port is a closer match to the arcade than the Genesis version.
It really is strange Altered Beast CD doesn't feature redbook audio for the stage themes, although there are hints at what could have been in the "Story" cinema, title screen, and the between-levels jingle. Despite the lack of a complete, proper CD soundtrack, those chiptunes still sound pretty damn good. Sound effects got an overhaul, however, and the game now features hearty cracks and booms as you obliterate rocks and headstones, not to mention the voices which were missing from the cartridge are back.
Graphically the game has been altered slightly from the cart with several background palette swaps and a little art revision in stage 1. I believe the changes were made to make the game appear a little more similar to the arcade, but it's curious they went to the trouble for such minor tweaks. As for the game halting to load mid-level, well, it's safe to say I didn't even notice it at first. The scrolling does halt periodically anyway when the game is waiting for you to dispatch an enemy or obstacle, the only difference here is your inability to move for two seconds. Not quite the game wrecking flaw people make it out to be, the pauses are integrated into the levels well enough to be largely unnoticeable.
Alterations include changes in sky and background tree color.
The biggest difference, and indeed the most consequential, between the CD version and its cartridge counterpart lies in how your character handles damage. Where the cart will have you bouncing helplessly back and forth as your life drains away, the CD actually adds a second or two of invincibility allowing you to regain your composure and (hopefully) prevent unnecessary loss of life.
Altered Beast CD really is a superb port of the arcade classic, and if it wasn't for the existence of the cartridge for comparison, I think CD would probably be a little more highly regarded. Altered Beast on the Duo is an extremely solid product in either iteration, impressive even. Still, I'd unquestionably recommend CD first to players looking to give the game a try as only warriors as hardy as the Duomazov clan stand a chance of making headway with the cart.
It's worthy of note that Altered Beast CD requires the BIOS of the Japanese-only System Card 1.0 in order to play properly. The good news is System 1.0 shouldn't run you too much. It's also possible to play the game without issue using a flash cart "pretending" to be a System 1 card.