Avenging Spirit review

I only had limited knowledge of this 1991 arcade game prior to playing for this review, knowing only that the rare Game Boy version – with its hilarious regional box art – now sells for a hefty sum. Considering that said handheld version was the only home conversion, I think it’s safe to brand it an obscurity that many won’t be familiar with.  

As such, credit goes to Ratalaika Games – they’ve picked some excellent retro titles to re-release over the past year or so, with this action platformer joining the likes of Gleylancer, Moto Roader, and Gynoug. Following suit, Avenging Spirit also launches for a modest £5.99.

What we have here is the arcade version of Avenging Spirit, with a choice between the US and Japanese ROMs, plus modern features such as screen size options, filters, and a rewind tool.

It’s based around a couple of twists – one of which was innovative for 1991. As the name suggests, you play as a ghost out for revenge. After a gang of quintessentially 1930’s mobsters kidnap your girlfriend and leave you dead, it’s a case of haunting them from beyond the grave by possessing different characters to harness their abilities. The opening intro is legendarily blunt.

At the start of the game, four characters are available, and upon death it’s essential to find a new host before an energy bar – which spans almost the entire screen – is depleted. When entering a boss battle, you’re locked in with one character – so it pays to know when a stage is about to end.  

Along the way, you’ll get to jump into the boots of gun-toting gangsters, commandos, ninjas, and punkish teens, along with robots, dragons, and a few other oddballs. This makes for an eccentric experience, especially when coupled with amusing facial expressions upon being possessed.

It isn’t a straightforward side-scroller either. Well, not entirely – a few stages are free-roaming, letting you climb up ladders, backtrack, and leap across beams. There’s a good reason to explore – to see the true ending, three keys must be found. To discover these, you’ll need to go off the beaten path and not necessarily pay attention to the on-screen directions. This of course means there’s a degree of replay value, even if there are just two endings to see.

Deaths don’t feel cheap, necessarily, but it’s still possible to see how it was designed to guzzle credits in the arcade. The female enemies leap around in what appears to be random patterns, some areas have spike-covered floors, and avoiding falling gunk during the sewer boss is tricky.

Visually, it’s a bit grungy and uninspiring outside of character designs. Bosses are run of the mill also, requiring not much skill or effort to defeat. Animation is also crude, which isn’t much of a surprise considering around 20 characters are playable – in 1991, this would have been a lot of work for the development team. Backdrops have flourishes – such as detailed back-alley restaurants – but are generally bland, especially the sewer stage.

Having said all this, had this been converted to the Mega Drive in 1991/1992, there would have been concessions (although the broken English text found within cut-scenes may have been fixed.)

Being an arcade game, Avenging Spirit is a fleeting experience, lasting around 25 minutes. Unless you try for a single credit run, you’re going to see everything in less than two hours. Perhaps even within an hour, if you happen to come across the vital keys quickly. While it lasts though, it’s reasonably entertaining. A hefty slice of Japanese obscurity, likely previously known only to those who received the Game Boy version for Christmas in 1992 rather than Super Mario Land 2.

Avenging Spirit is published by Ratalaika Games. Out July 29th on all major formats.