Jaleco’s Avenging Spirit is a highly enjoyable, very creative arcade game — and interestingly enough, several different ways to play it have been made available to everyone just recently at the time of writing. Not only is there a port from Ratalaika Games to modern platforms, but it’s also part of the Jaleco Arcade 1 cartridge for the Evercade retro gaming platform. We’ll be focusing on the latter today, as part of a broader exploration of this collection of excellent Japanese retro titles.
Avenging Spirit was developed by C.P. Brain, who were also responsible for the excellent beat ’em up 64th Street: A Detective Story, which can also be found on the Jaleco Arcade 1 cart for Evercade. It was first released into arcades in 1991, and subsequently enjoyed a well-regarded Game Boy version in 1992, an iOS port in 2010 and the aforementioned recent versions. As such, it’s arguably not one of Jaleco’s better-known games — but those who have played it do tend to enjoy it.
The concept behind Avenging Spirit is that the player-protagonist has been shot dead by a crime syndicate, and his girlfriend (canonically known as “Miss Darling”) has been kidnapped. Coincidentally, his girlfriend’s father is a noted authority on the research of ghost energy, and the kidnapping was primarily intended as a means for the syndicate to get its hands on his work.
What they weren’t counting on, however, was the player character’s restless spirit, who sets off on a journey to rescue Miss Darling, protect her father’s research and ultimately put his own spirit at rest. Deep, huh?
In execution, Avenging Spirit is a platform game with elements of beat ’em ups — and a rather cool twist. Being a ghost, our hero is capable of possessing the bodies of the enemies standing in his way, and by making use of their bodies, he can fight back against the crime syndicate, battle his way into their secret lair, rescue the girl and hopefully be in Heaven in time for afternoon tea.
What this means in practice is that you’re not limited to a single playable character in Avenging Spirit. After choosing one of several possible characters to possess during the game’s opening, you then have the opportunity to switch bodies any time your present host kicks the bucket.
You have to be quick, though; while not safely in a body, your ghostly energy is gradually dissipating, and if you don’t find another host quickly, it’s all over for you. Unless, obviously, you put more money in the machine or perform some sort of modern virtual equivalent such as pressing Select on the Evercade version.
There are a large number of different playable characters in Avenging Spirit, and many of them have palette-swapped variants. Rather than simply providing access to different types of attack, each playable character also has their own distinctive handling. Some are good at running around and jumping, some are built to take more hits and others are, as you might expect, good all-rounders.
The differences between the characters are noticeable and thematically appropriate, though, which is a really nice touch. Possess a ninja-like character, for example, and you’ll find you can leap to enormous heights if you hold the jump button, and you’ll also fall extremely quickly. By contrast, possessing one of the mage-like characters nets you a powerful ranged attack, but a hard-to-handle jump that springs off the ground incredibly quickly then sort of “floats” afterwards.
As you proceed through the game, you’ll doubtless find your own favourite characters and come to rely on them — and for the most part, the game doesn’t really “force” you into playing a specific role. While some enemies around the game’s levels are fixed in place and remain dead once you’ve killed them, others respawn, meaning you can usually find a source for most different types of character at any given moment — and with no time limit in place save for your ghostly energy while not in a body, you can take your time being choosy.
You can also take your time exploring, which is one of the more interesting aspects of Avenging Spirit compared to many other platform games that originated in the arcade. While arcade titles often tend to push the player onwards as quickly as possible — partly to keep the game exciting and partly to ensure that arcade operators would enjoy a good turnover of players — Avenging Spirit is built in such a way that taking your time is actually the most rewarding way to play.
In order to achieve the game’s “true” ending, you need to discover three keys that are hidden throughout the game’s levels. None of these are especially hard to find, though all of them do require you to deliberately ignore the big flashing arrows in the stages that tell you where you need to go in order to advance. It’s pleasing and rewarding to stumble across one of the keys for the first time — particularly in the case of the last one, which requires good skills of observation, a sense of curiosity and some solid platforming skills to reach.
Successfully find all three keys and — spoiler, I guess — our hero rescues and possesses Miss Darling, who promptly equips herself with a badass laser rifle and proceeds to kick arse for the game’s finale. Fail, meanwhile, and you can still beat the game, but Miss Darling is blown up along with the syndicate’s base. You monster. You really think she’s going to want to hang out with you in Heaven after that?
Avenging Spirit is a fun time. Some may find the platforming a little floaty at the start, since many of the characters you’ll encounter in the first stage are designed to work in this sort of way. But as you progress through the game, encounter more different playable characters and discover your favourites, you’ll find a highly rewarding experience that is a lot of fun.
There’s arguably not a ton of replayability here aside from trying for a one-credit clear. This is one of those games that doesn’t reset your score or otherwise penalise you upon continuing, essentially making the scoring system fairly meaningless for anything other than a self-imposed limited-credit or caravan-style timed run.
That said, at heart Avenging Spirit is one of those games that is designed to simply be fun to experience. Like a good beat ’em up, the game tells its story primarily through its environmental elements and the journey the protagonist takes over the course of its duration — and for many players, that will be enough incentive to sit down and take 30-45 minutes to credit-feed their way through and just enjoy the ride every so often.
If you do want to one-credit clear it, meanwhile, there’s a fairly stiff challenge ahead of you. It’s by no means impossible, of course — but you will need to learn the levels, understand the capabilities of the characters who are available to you at any given moment, and be able to implement some solid strategies on the fly to protect yourself from damage.
Essentially, then, how much you get from Avenging Spirit depends on how much you generally get out of arcade-style experiences. Blast your way through with unlimited credits and you may well be done and dusted with it in less than an hour, but give yourself some self-imposed challenges — or just step back and enjoy the lovely pixel art and sprite animation throughout — and there’s plenty of fun to be had over the longer term.
Either way, this is an unusual title from Jaleco that it’s good to see out in the wild again. If you missed out on it first time around, either in its arcade or Game Boy incarnations, it’s definitely worth an hour or two of your time at the very least.
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