I love playing retro games and the only thing that one-ups that feeling is discovering a hidden gem that I somehow missed the 1st time around. Today, that game is the Jaleco arcade title Avenging Spirit, brought to current-gen consoles thanks to City Connection and Ratalaika. Released back in 1991, Avenging Spirit (aka Phantasm in Japan) gained a bit of a cult following with the gamers who’ve played it, and I can see why. The graphics are colorful and cartoony, plus the stage backgrounds are chock-full of detailed sprite work. The choice to go with a large sprite design for the characters and enemies helps to make them pop off the screen and showcase their originality and goofiness. Combine all that with the frenetically-paced soundtrack and I can just imagine this cabinet making a scene just sitting there in the middle of a crowded arcade.
Before you start the game, you have a few options to play with. First off, you need to choose between playing the original Japanese language version or the English. Then you choose which mode you want to play in, the choice being the one-player home version or the original arcade version featuring offline two-player co-op. They pretty well share most of the same features, the only real difference that I noticed is the co-op and the way arcade mode allows you to mess with the DIP switch setting like a real arcade operator. This lets you play with things like enabling service mode, screen flipping options, and a debug menu but it isn’t really clear what kind of value these things add to a console game. Both versions benefit from a game rewind feature (made popular by The Disney Afternoon Collection), a save state feature, and the obligatory CRT filter options. Once you’re done with that, you can jump right into the game itself.
The story is hilarious and sets up an interesting gameplay gimmick. While on a walk with your girlfriend, a gang kidnaps her to get a hold of her father’s research and kills you. Lucky for you (well, not really I suppose) her father is researching ghost energy. Now that you are a ghost who is slowly running out of time, you embark on a mission to rescue your girlfriend before it is too late. The only thing you are capable of doing in your ghost form is possessing people, so you begin by possessing one of the four starting characters and you’re off to the races! Once your host dies, you return to ghost form and your energy bar drains until you take over another enemy. If your energy bar depletes completely, you will die (again) and be forced to use a continue. There are powerups scattered around to help you out, like health and energy refills, jewels for points, and bombs that wipe out every enemy on the screen when grabbed. To be honest, though, the game isn’t very difficult and the home version features unlimited continues. If you want to challenge yourself then you can play the arcade version and turn off continues in the DIP switch options.
The fun part is trying out the huge and wacky cast of enemies. There are around twenty of them and all can be possessed except for the bosses. You will have the opportunity to control a plethora of baddies such as the ninja, gangster, wizard in fluffy cat ear robes, and even a vampire that flashes his boxers every time he opens his cape to attack. Some of the characters share the same basic look but have a different color palette and weapon set. The commando is the best example: he can go from a straightforward gun, lobbing grenades in an overhead arc, or a missile launching backpack. Each person you take control of has different mobility as well, with some being faster, jumping higher, or even flying in the case of the weird naked guru guy. The best part is that there is plenty of action to be had because the enemies are plentiful and respawn as the screen moves, so you will have lots of opportunities to try out every one and find your favorite.
The downside is that Avenging Spirits is incredibly short. Beating it twice took me an hour and a half tops. The reason I played through twice was to see both endings. As you are playing through the six levels, there are three hidden keys to find so you can unlock the door in the final stage to rescue your girlfriend and get the good ending. The bosses are hit and miss as well. One is a literal crane that you must dodge while running on a conveyor belt, waiting for an opportunity to strike the engine when the barrier lifts. It does fit in with the goofy motif I guess, but it would have been nice if they had been cooler. There isn’t much else to say so I’ll leave you with some final thoughts. While the game is quite short, the issue is offset by the incredibly cheap price and I think it is quite worthwhile for retro gamers to experience this title. Achievement hunters looking for an easy 1K gamerscore would also find Avenging Spirits a nice purchase.
Note: A copy of the game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 6.5/10
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