Avenging Spirit
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Developer:
    • C.P. Brain
  • Publisher:
    • Jaleco
  • Released:
    ARC
    • JP US 1991
    GB
    • JP 11/06/1992
    • US December 1992
    • UK 1992
Score: 75%

This review was published on 04/20/2018.

Avenging Spirit, known in Japan as Phantasm, is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by C.P. Brain and published by Jaleco Entertainment for the arcade and Game Boy. The arcade version was released in Japan and North America in 1991, whereas the Game Boy port originally came out in Japan on November 6, 1992, North America in December 1992, and Europe in 1992. Jaleco was a fairly well known company back in the day that published many arcade titles, but not much is known about C.P. Brain. The same could be said about Avenging Spirit. Not a whole lot of information exists out there about this game, which is why this review exists. On its surface, this will appear to be another average platformer, but it's got a pretty unique concept behind it. That concept is why this game is worth mentioning. Read the rest of the review to find out what that concept is.

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During a walk with his girlfriend, the protagonist of the story is ambushed by shady men in coats who kidnap his girlfriend and shoot him to death. In other words, the game begins with the hero's death. That's not the end for him, though, because he's still around as an avenging spirit, hence the title. The protagonist's wandering spirit is summoned by his girlfriend's father, who is a paranormal researcher. He explains that the people who kidnapped his daughter are part of a crime syndicate that's holding her ransom to get information about his research on ghost energy. It's now up to the main character, who's a ghost, to avenge his own death and rescue his girlfriend. The game's premise is a little reminiscent of the beginning of the Yu Yu Hakusho anime. Either way, the story sets up the game's central mechanic, which will be discussed in greater detail in the following paragraph.

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As indicated by the introductory story scene, you play as a ghost. The game begins with a brief tutorial that goes over your ghostly abilities, which I'll summarize here. When in ghost form, you'll be able to float around the screen with few restrictions and nothing can harm you. However, you have an energy meter that constantly drains, and you lose if it's completely empty. To stop the energy meter from draining, you must possess an enemy by flying over it and pressing any of the buttons. Once an enemy has been possessed, the energy meter will stop draining by itself, but you'll be vulnerable to the attacks of other foes or environmental hazards. The enemy you're controlling has its own life meter that's separate from the energy meter, and both meters decrease whenever you take damage. If the enemy you're controlling dies, you'll be kicked out of its body and forced to possess another foe. You can keep doing this until your energy meter runs out. It's pretty cool.

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In addition to starting out with a different amount of life, each possessed enemy has its own unique attributes and abilities. Every enemy is capable of jumping and performing a single attack, but the jumping heights and types of attacks differ wildly from one foe to the next. Some enemies jump real high at the cost of having a feeble attack, whereas others are good at attacking but bad at jumping. Examples of people you can possess include female martial artists that attack with their limbs, ninjas equipped with shurikens, gangsters armed with guns, grenade chucking mercenaries, turban wearing men mysteriously capable of flight, magicians that shoot magical beams, baseball players that use their bats as weapons, spooky vampires that have actual bats at their command, fire breathing lizardmen, and even robots. Possessing people is the most enjoyable part of the game, because it gives you the opportunity to experiment with new abilities.

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Six stages await your ghostly presence in this game. Most of the stages are set in urban settings, like cities, factories, sewers, and warehouses. Aside from the occasional branching path that leads to extra items and power-ups, the stages are rather straightforward. It's all fairly typical stuff, like jumping on moving platforms and defeating the waves of enemies that get in your way. The last few stages are slightly maze-like, though. If it weren't for the large variety of wacky enemies to possess, the stages wouldn't be anything to write home about. The bosses are a bit more interesting, however. During the one-on-one boss fights, you're stuck in whatever body you approached the boss with, because you can't possess the boss itself. That means you can't go body hopping if you die, making things tenser than usual. Additionally, there are three keys scattered throughout the game, and while their acquisition is optional, skipping out on them means you'll get the bad ending. Thankfully, the keys aren't terribly hard to find. Speaking of difficulty, this game is surprisingly easy for an arcade title.

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The arcade version has graphics that were about on par or even slightly better than 16-bit home consoles such as the SNES and Genesis. Naturally, things had to be scaled down considerably for the Game Boy port, so the game would better fit the portable's smaller screen and 8-bit hardware. Despite the audio and visual downgrade, the Game Boy version plays extraordinarily well and is fairly faithful to the original. In some ways, it plays even better than the original, as it exhibits a higher level of polish with tighter controls and more refined stage design. There are some other minor changes, like how the baseball players toss their balls around instead of simply swinging their bat. If you don't have a way of playing the arcade original, and most people don't, then rest assured that the Game Boy port is perfectly adequate.

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Long before Nintendo did it in Super Mario Odyssey, C.P. Brain experimented with the concept of possession in a video game with Avenging Spirit. In doing so, they created a charming and innovative game that's fun to play. Sure, it's not on the same level of bigger budget titles like the aforementioned Mario, but it's still a good way to spend an afternoon.

Word Count: 1,035

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