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Avenging Spirit review for Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X


Platform: Nintendo Switch
Also On: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Publisher: Ratalaika Games
Developer: Shinyuden / City Connection
Medium: Digital
Players: 1-2
Online: No
ESRB: E

Last week saw the release of 90’s arcade action-platformer Avenging Spirit for pretty much all modern consoles, and I had a chance to check it out on Switch. Avenging Spirit, also known in Japan as Phantasm, is an oft-overlooked Jaleco game that may not be at the top of many classic arcade lists, but it certainly has a unique hook when compared to most old-school action titles of the era. Namely, the ability to possess any enemy you encounter and take on their abilities and traits, which can dictate your speed, jump height, power, and attack type. 

The story component of Avenging Spirit is pretty light, as are most arcade games released in the early 1990s. You take on the role of a recently slain man who has been recruited by your girlfriend’s father, who in turn resurrected you in a cutesy ghost form thanks to his research in “ghost energy”, in order to rescue your kidnapped girlfriend from the mobsters that also happened to be responsible for your demise. So yeah, it’s a pretty zany set-up, but it certainly gets the job done, and sets the stage for Avenging Spirits’ unique possession gameplay hook. 

At the onset of the game, you’ll be able to select 4 host bodies, which are also enemies you’ll encounter, but from there you’ll come across a much larger variety of enemies to possess as you progress through the 6 stages that make up Avenging Spirits’ world. The enemy types you’ll encounter are definitely out there, ranging from fire-breathing bi-pedal lizards to ninja, mobsters, sonic boom tossing ladies, robots, and more. The various stages of Avenging Spirit have both vertical and horizontal platforming moments, with areas that are virtually inaccessible depending on the enemy you are currently possessing. There are also hidden walls containing rooms filled with power-up items, and three optional keys you can locate that will alter the game’s ending. 

In order to possess a new enemy, you’ll have to exhaust the life bar of the enemy you’re currently possessing. In order for this to work, Avenging Spirit employs two life bars, one for your ghost form, and the other for your current possessed enemy. Enemy life bars can vary from enemy to enemy, but you’ll generally be able to move through multiple enemies before exhausting your spirit meter, which gradually depletes when you’re floating around outside of a host body. Again, it’s a super unique mechanic and one that I can’t really recall being used by anyone else when it comes to 90’s arcade titles. 

Visually Avenging Spirit holds up pretty well, which isn’t too surprising when it comes to sprite-based 2D platformers. Enemy sprites are actually pretty large and have unique animations for attacks, death, and possessions. The level design is maybe a little less interesting, but there is a noticeable variety from one stage to the next, and the use of both vertical and horizontal sections for each stage helps keep things interesting. As far as the controls go, you’ll often find that they are either entirely fine, or clunky as heck depending on the enemy you’re currently possessing. It does make the actual gameplay feel a little uneven throughout, and certainly isn’t a best-in-class platformer when compared to a number of other titles from that era. Also, the music is largely forgettable, with very little variety throughout. 

That said, while Avenging Spirit is a bit uneven at times, I appreciate that it’s actually getting a re-release, especially since there have only been about three home releases of the game in almost 30 years, and the original Game Boy cartridge currently nets well over $100 for a loose copy. So having the option to check this one out for a pretty reasonable price point of $5.99 sort of makes it worth picking up even if I don’t consider the actual gameplay to be top tier. Also, there’s a surprising amount of options to mess with when it comes to the display menu, which goes beyond just a handful of filters and allows you to fine-tune a number of things including scanline intensity, curvature, sharpness, and so on. Along with that you’ve got your more standard retro re-release options like save states and a rewind ability. And rounding out the additions is the ability to play the Japanese version of the game, along with a traditional arcade mode that supports 2 players locally. Again, for the price point, I think you’re getting a solid list of additions and options that go beyond just being able to purchase a fairly rare and obscure classic that has been notoriously expensive for a while. 

So while Avenging Spirit might not be my top 90’s arcade game by any stretch, I do think the low price point and attention to detail on this release make it worth picking up. Its unique possession hook makes it stand out amongst other classic action games, and it can certainly be fun to run through with another player a time or two in order to see everything Avenging Spirit has to offer. So check it out when you get a chance, it’s a neat addition to your classic arcade game library. 

Note: Ratalaika Games provided us with a Avenging Spirit Switch code for review purposes.

Grade: B