Released as the age of the home computer was coming to an end and the era of the games console, in Western Europe at least, was beginning, Beast was a landmark title for a number of reasons. For starters, it was arguably the most visually arresting game on the Amiga. Not just because the sprite work was beautiful - it was - but also for doing something console gamers from the NES onwards took for granted: it not only had smooth scrolling as the screen moved left to right, but had multiple layers - parallax scrolling - moving along at varying rates. Then there was the soundtrack. Beast's opening and in-game music knocked gamers' socks off. A sort of panpipey reverb piece when action went underground, a slow-build crashing anthem out in the open. For Amiga owners it was among the very best and technically accomplished pieces their machine could offer at that time. The only downside was the game play. Beast was by no means a bad game, it was just a little bit dull. Plot-wise, it didn't really matter. Something about being kidnapped as a kid, being experimented on and becoming a key minion for the eponymous Beast, and then rebelling when you find out what the boss had done to you. This gives you license to thump gorgeous-looking enemies, go up and down ladders, solve very simple puzzles, and that was about it. It worked well as a tech demo - it didn't take much to wow the punters 26 years ago. The game itself, however, was very limited.
Of course, it didn't look gorgeous. Far from it. The C64 was often graced by games with some of the blockiest graphics of the day. Very few exist that could be described as pretty. Not that it mattered, just as the Speccy had a tiny colour palette gamers then took these quirks of their machines in their stride. Nevertheless, Beast was very, very impressive. The multi-layered scrolling was in. The interpretation of the Amiga's music via the celebrated SID chip was nothing short of stunning. And, incredibly, rather than redraw the sprites from scratch they were ported down from the Amiga and re-rendered. They looked a bit washed out, but you could tell this has been done. It captured a sense of the same technical virtuosity of its more advanced sibling. And game play-wise, it somehow worked better, despite being virtually identical. Perhaps it was because there were fewer levels (the C64 game hit the shelves without the horizontally-scrolling shooter section included in the Amiga version, though - weirdly - they were crammed into the Speccy and Amstrad versions) and a higher capacity to absorb damage - 25 as opposed to 12 hits could now be sustained. The collision detection seemed a touch improved as well, and overall it was quite a relaxing game. Of a Sunday morning it would serve as a relatively short, mindless, but entertaining diversion - especially once it was mastered, which didn't take long. At least that's what I thought of it back then.
That this fusion, this uneasy synthesis should find itself exemplified in a C64 game whose protagonist is spurred on by the truth of his own human/monster hybridity is a nice coincidence the programmers could not have known. Beast marks one of the peaks of C64 gaming. It was digital pride before the inevitable fall.