Overview – brought to home consoles for the first time by Ratalaika Games, City Connection and Shinyuden, Avenging Spirit (called Phantasm in Japan) is a classic arcade title originally published by Jaleco in 1991. As a wandering spirit that wants to rescue his girlfriend being held hostage, players must possess enemies to complete this mission. This title is now available for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4/5 and Xbox One/Series systems, with links to each platform at the bottom of this review.
Disclaimer: before I get into the review, I would like to thank PR Hound for providing the copy of Avenging Spirit that was used for this piece. The provision of this software has not influenced the contents of this review, all thoughts and opinions contained within are my own.
Now with the introductions out of the way, let’s get into the review, starting with the basic plot for Avenging Spirit.
Story – While out on a troll with his girlfriend, the protagonist is attacked by agents of a criminal syndicate, who kidnap the girl and kill the protagonist. After death, the protagonist becomes a wandering spirit that has the ability to possess others. Now the spirit has been summoned by the girl’s father, who has given him the mission to save her from the syndicate. The avenging spirit sets out to bring down the evil syndicate, save the girl and finally rest in peace.
Gameplay – Avenging Spirit is a platform action title, with the objective being to clear each of the 6 stages by reaching and beating the boss for that stage. As the spirit, players are able to possess enemies and take control of them, using their attacks to take out other enemies, while finding secrets in some of the more maze like stages. There are several different enemy types that appear, with different attacks, movement speeds and jump heights making for a challenging gameplay loop.
The enemies that can be possessed also have their own strengths and weaknesses, with some excelling in movement and others in offense. The overall variety of enemies will be a mixed bag, as the reach and effective range of attacks will make the game increasingly difficult. During the six levels of the game, the enemies will get stronger with new attacks, with a change in color showing the new enemy variants. The player possessing stronger enemies is key to success, as they can take out others with ease.
The player has an energy bar as a spirit that will be depleted in two ways. The first is while possessing an enemy, as each enemy has their own health bar, but any damage a possessed form takes will reduce both energy meters. When a possessed enemy is defeated, the spirit is ejected and the energy meter starts to run down. This means that every second that the player hasn’t possessed an enemy their energy will start running out, functioning like a timer for the player to add additional pressure.
If the player runs out of ghost energy, they will lose and must use a credit to continue playing. There are some health items that can refill energy for the spirit and possessed units, however, energy can run out very quickly so collecting energy refills is important. There are also items that can wipe out all enemies on the screen, quickly clearing out the immediate threats. The gameplay does change a little when the player enters a boss battle.
In contrast to the main stages, where players will run jump and battle foes in platforming action, the bosses are set in a single arena in a one on one battle. When the player enters a boss room, they will be locked in as the character they possessed, sharing the same energy bar as the spirit. The boss also has an energy bar that needs to be wiped out in order to progress. If the player is defeated, they can continue immediately with the same character that they entered the boss room with.
When a boss is defeated, a bonus is provided based on the performance of the player in battle, with the bonus points reducing over time. The boss battles have their own unique challenges to them as each boss follows a unique attack pattern, along with hazards and specific weak points that must be hit to deal damage. These battles keep the flow of gameplay going smoothly and don’t derail the experience when moving between them.
The last thing to mention is the quality of life improvements that have been made with this release. First, both regional variations of the game are available to play, with the English Avenging Spirit version and the original Japanese release called Phantasm. Next are the Arcade and Home Console modes that can be selected from the main menu. Arcade mode allows players to freely alter the games dip-switch settings and play 2 player, while home console mode comes with preset options for players to enjoy.
There is also the inclusion of save/load states that let players stop playing and resume from where they left of freely, with an additional rewind feature that allows for mistakes to be corrected during play. The developers also included additional features for players to explore, including debug menus, filters and more for players to get the most out of the experience.
Now with the gameplay covered, I want to move onto the other aspects of the game, starting with the controls.
Controls – the controls for Avenging spirit are very simple, with two buttons used for jump and possession/attack, along with movement tied to the left thumbstick and d-pad. The inputs can also be remapped to fit any control set up, making it easy to adjust the controls for any set-up. There are also zero issues with input lag which makes it feel responsive and snappy during play. I do recommend that an arcade stick is used if available, as that is the most authentic way to experience this title.
Difficulty – this title has a simple difficulty curve with four difficulty settings that increase the challenge of this release. The four difficulty settings increase the number of enemies, the frequency of foes respawning and the amount of damage that attacks do to the player. There is also adjustable settings for the Arcade mode and free credits for both modes, which makes this an accessible and beatable challenge for players of all skill levels.
Presentation – the visuals present in this release are excellent with satisfying sprite work, exaggerated characters and varied stage designs. These classic visuals translate to the big screen and handheld modes, as well as the inclusion of filters for those who want to add a vintage look to the game. The sound emulation for this release is excellent, with the music being as vibrant as the arcade original and the sound effects having a satisfying hit to them.
Final Thoughts – I had played Avenging Spirit many years ago and I was happy to see it is getting a home release after 30+years. The translation from arcade to the home is seamless, especially for a system like the Nintendo Switch, with the new quality of life improvements making for a fun experience at home and on the go. I can happily recommend this game to fans of action platformers and arcade games in general, especially at the low price point being offered for the game length.
In the end, I give Avenging Spirit (aka Phantasm) a final score of 4/5. This is an excellent port of game that hadn’t been re-released in 30+ years, with pixel perfect emulation and fun gameplay that has a unique selling point through the possession system. Even though the game is a little short, the modest price point and overall quality of the game makes up for it. if you want to check this title out for yourself, a link to each version of the game will be below.
Link to Nintendo Switch version (HERE)
Link to PlayStation version (HERE)
Link to Xbox version (HERE)