Thanks to Ratalaika Games for the review code
Title: AVENGING SPIRIT
System: Xbox Series X
Release Date: 07/28/2022
In this arcade action game from Jaleco, you take control of a spirit born from the death of a civilian, who was harnessed by a scientist in search of his kidnapped daughter, who just so happened to be your girlfriend you died trying to protect. Using the power of being a phantasm spirit, you must possess all sorts of crazy things in your quest to rescue your girlfriend and complete your final mission in life, by destroying the organization that targeted her!
Surprisingly dark for an 90s Arcade game, despite the goofy presentation, but indeed, Avenging Spirit was a bold effort in this regard of storytelling, even if the cutscenes are basic and inbetween levels. There’s even an alternate ending depending on if you fail to acquire the three keys that sealed your girlfriend away!
Avenging Spirit definitely goes for a presentation that’s a pretty big step up from prior Jaleco arcade titles at the time. You got detailed sprites and backgrounds, sure, but the entire game is presented in a charmingly, cartoonish way to add an extra unique flair to the overall experience. Every enemy type has a funny set of expressions to go along with them, and even the cutscenes have a very goofy look to them, looking lighthearted in a contrast to the grim nature of the story. Even the bosses look absolutely silly, despite how menacing they are supposed to be, adding to that extra layer of charm.
The audio front is more mixed. I originally played the Game Boy version of this title back when it hit the 3DS eShop, and the OST in that game was pretty memorable with great chiptunes. Here, you do have a lot of the same music, but the instrumentation here is all sorts of irritating, using loud stereo instruments that, while making great use of the speakers and fitting in a booming Arcade setting, repeat way too often in a way that leads to the overall score feeling rather repetitive. The sound effects are equally loud, and while I was a bit baffled that missing with an attack produce no sound effect whatsoever, hearing how loud the actual SE were when I was dealing with swarms of enemies made me quickly realize how it was a blessing. Good for folks who enjoy stereo stuff, but not nearly as great as the Game Boy version.
Unfortunately, said music is utterly butchered here, since in a baffling oversight, it completely plays at the wrong pace. Compare an actual arcade board to the emulation here (or heck, even the emulation on the Jaleco Evercade cart, which gets it right!), and there’s clear differences in how some songs (especially stage 2) sound, and it is just completely and utterly wrong. The sound effects appear to be the same as they should be, so what gives?
Even more jarring, when bringing up the Xbox guide menu with the home button and going back to the game, the music glitches and changes tempo… Oddly sounding closer to what it should be for a brief period before correcting itself. Even rewind and fast forwarding can screw the music up for a bit, all leading to a very unpleasant way to experience an already mediocre soundtrack.
Being that this is a Ratalaika port, their usual UI applies, with some minor additions and tweaks from their more recent efforts. Their great CRT filter is back, along with the screen size options. Sadly, there does not appear to be any way to adjust the stereo in the same manner as their Turrican sets, which would have really helped here. Interestingly, this is more feature-rich on a gameplay level than their prior Arcade port, which especially helps on a gameplay front.
Interestingly, this Ratalaika port job completely fixes a lot of my gripes with how they handled the arcade portwork for Clockwork Aquario. While that game was really picky about DIP options, this port of Avenging Spirit has a lot more features to tinker with. From the onset, you can choose between the Japanese arcade game, Phantasm, and the US version, Avenging Spirit. Both appear to be similar from the sessions I did of both games, outside of the obvious text differences, but at least it provides the option.
Then, once you choose your region, you can go with one of two play experiences: a full blown Arcade Operator experience where you have control over DIP switches and can do the (very lame) alternating two player mode, or a more curated, beginner-friendly one player mode where you just choose from preset difficulties and are on free play. Whichever you choose, you have a lot of stuff to tinker with and can still earn achievements all the same, leading to a very fun way to make your own experience, without any nonsense about forcing a button that resets the game to the test menu. (though you can toggle a debug flag that allows you to go totally wild with the game, if you know the code!)
Once you pick your difficulty and options, you can jump right on into the core game! Here you have six levels to go through, with your main gimmick being the ability to possess any of the minor enemies. Each of them has their own signature moves and quirks to them, meaning that if you like the projectile throwing of the ninja, or the close combat of the female karate student, you can have at it! But if you take damage, their body can expire, along with your own life energy, which drains the longer you are separated from a body, or if you die in a boss battle, so there is indeed your traditional Arcade difficulty to deal with here. In fact, this game shows some huge fangs right away, for enemies absolutely bombard you, with certain enemy types containing moves that can kill your host in only a couple of hits! It gets beyond absurd on the final stages, and with some bosses, using certain enemy types are a death sentence, making them sponges that take next to no damage. Expect tons of credit feeding if you want to get to the end of this game, or a lot of careful practice.
Overall, Avenging Spirit in the Arcade isn’t too much to write home about on the surface, especially compared to the Game Boy port, but one cool thing it has you do relates to the finding of three hidden keys. Obtain them all, and you get the true ending and an awesome final transformation, but if you fail, you get a bad ending and a harder final boss. This and the local high score list are the closest you’ll get to replay value, since there really isn’t that much here after you experience the main game. Trying to 1 credit clear could be a fun challenge, but there’s no online leaderboards or any of the nifty bonuses Arcade Archives titles usually give for two bucks more, and while I am super thankful that this allows for the flexibility Aquario should have provided, the core game doesn’t have much else going for it outside of the main gimmick.
Even the overall length is pretty darn short, which at least means the experience is short and sweet, but if you were hoping for an incentive to replay and better your scores, you pretty much just have your own skills to best here, and the achievements are so basic, you can get them all in a simple 45 minute run of the game. Combine that with poor audio emulation, and you have a mediocre port of a mediocre game, that’s a step away from being the ultimate package for this game by excluding the GB version.
In conclusion, Avenging Spirit was quite the oddball pick to reissue. It was also very recently reissued via the Evercade line of systems, and while this version has more options, it isn’t like the arcade original is hard to come by. Arcade Archives usually gets Jaleco stuff, leaving this one game being ported everywhere as a bit of an odd recommendation. I went with the Xbox version since that system does not have the ACA lineup, and sadly, the audio issues do make the experience way less fun.
I do wish that since they went out of their way to include the Japanese Arcade version, they went ahead and threw in the Game Boy port as well for a complete Avenging Spirit experience, since outside of the core game and insanely simple achievements, there’s little replay value besides beating your own scores. No online leaderboards make this a tough recommend for the general public, and while the core porting process is far better and more flexible with DIP Switch settings than Aquario was, that still doesn’t get rid of the fact that Avenging Spirit is a game with a cool concept with not much to it, and the lack of the GB version hurts this port’s value in the end, especially since that home version has some major differences between regions where it would benefit here.
Still, while I’d rather Ratalaika focus on bringing more fun Masaya gems to consoles, if Jaleco’s on the table, I could absolutely be down with this being the way to bring home good ports of Chimera Beast and Famicom Soldam. After all, if these guys ported one lost gem, who’s to say they can’t port more? However, they do have to get on top of the emulation in the future: bad sound emulation here is unfortunately, a big shame that brings the whole package down, and while it’s not as unplayable as Panorama Cotton was at launch (the gameplay is perfectly as it should be, it’s just the audio that’s irritatingly off), it’ll definitely bug those who’ve played this game the way it should sound.
I give Avenging Spirit a 5 out of 10.