Avenging Spirit review: possession-based platformer finally resurrected

It feels like the sky’s the limit when it comes to retro game re-releases these days. From a preservation standpoint, it’s a fantastic opportunity for players to try out obscure, quirky and sometimes secretly impactful things that have otherwise been lost to time. I never thought I’d see someone bring back stuff like Bill & Ted’s Excellent Video Game Adventure or Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties, for example, but here we are. Even the most obscure retro titles are fair game for re-issues.

Now, Ratalaika Games has seen fit to delve into Jaleco’s archives and resurrect the recondite arcade game Avenging Spirit for our gaming pleasure. The game is probably better known (well, as a cult classic anyway) from its charming Game Boy port, but here we are finally presented with the arcade original – and it’s definitely worth sinking a few virtual coins into. The unusual and ambitious concept behind it still feels unique in this day and age, while remaining eminiently playable and entertaining.

The story goes that you and your girlfriend are out for a romantic stroll, when seemingly out of the blue some mobsters jump you, pump you full of lead and take off with your partner. It turns out that your paramour is the daughter of a paranormal investigator that the mob are after, and they plan to use the unlucky lady as leverage. Luckily for you, said investigator finds your ghost and instructs you to rescue his daughter by possessing the on-screen enemies until you reach the final showdown. How’s that for a set-up?

Avenging Spirit takes the form of an action platformer where, as mentioned above, you possess the various enemies in a stage in order to progress. These include commandos, robots, amazons and even vampires with a predilection for flashing you. The range of enemies isn’t huge, but there are variations that not only have a different palette but different abilities and attacks. You not only have to manage your own life bar but that of your host; the moment they go down, you need to find a new bad guy to possess post haste, because your life will dwindle when you’re a mere apparition. However, there isn’t a lot of strategy involved, because you can’t exit a host without them dying first, so your typical next step is to simply dive into the nearest one, whether you jive with their playstyle or not.

In its brisk five stages, this proves to not really be an issue, because the novelty of having a gaggle of different play styles is neat, and in the end they all have something to offer that makes the game fun. Also worth noting is that there are two endings; one in which you find three keys hidden in the stages and end up saving the girlfriend, and one in which you take on the boss without rescuing her. (That said, even the good ending is strangely morose.) Having multiple endings is an interesting concept for an arcade game, but also one that perhaps artifically extends the game somewhat, because you have to venture beyond the main path to find the aforementioned keys.

While presentation-wise Ratalaika did a great job bringing Avenging Spirit home, the rest of the package is pretty bare minimum. The user interface is very perfunctory in that it feels not unlike the dipswitches old arcade machines would have – there’s hardly much pizzazz to it. However, it does have some key features that I like to see in retro re-releases, such as the ability to choose versions from different regions and being able to rewind your game. I feel like it was a missed opportunity to add the aforementioned Game Boy port, but what’s here is still enjoyable, if sparse.

I don’t know that I would go out of my way to call Avenging Spirit a classic by any stretch of the imagination, but what it does, it does well, and it’s still engaging even to this day. The novelty remains, well, novel, because beyond a few examples, there aren’t a lot of games that have tried the whole “possess different things for different gameplay possibilities” thing. And at a bargain price of around $6, it’s certainly worth giving up a day’s coffee to take Avenging Spirit for a whirl.

Avenging Spirit was developed by Jaleco and published by Ratalaika Games, and it’s available on PS4, PS5, Xbox and Switch. We played the Switch version.

Disclosure statement: review code for Avenging Spirit was provided by PR Hound. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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