Ratalaika Games have recently branched out into publishing actual retro titles alongside their usual retro-inspired games. This has seen the likes of Moto Roader MC being released as well as this new remaster, Avenging Spirit.
Known as Phantasm in Japan, Avenging Spirit is a lesser-known 2D platformer that released in arcades in 1991. It was ported to Game Boy a year later and then mobiles in 2010. This latest re-release has a few more bells and whistles than traditional Ratalaika Games titles, but it is definitely in the same mould as their other releases.
After an evening stroll with his girlfriend, an unnamed man is shot and killed. The girl is then kidnapped and held hostage by an organisation investigating ghost energy. This isn’t a random attack though as the girl’s father is also conducting his own research into ghost energy, and the organisation wants his help in return for his daughter’s release.
Instead, the girl’s father chooses to help the unnamed man who, as a wandering spirit, is given the ability to possess other people. If you haven’t guessed by now, you play as the ghost, capable of inhabiting the body of others.
Unfortunately, the ghost has a limited amount of energy he can use before perishing and needs to possess the bodies of others to survive. Good job then that there is a wide variety of enemies to take charge of ranging from mafioso, ninjas, dragons and even robots. Each one acts and plays differently too; some have the ability to jump higher or even float up by tapping the jump buttons, whilst others can long-range attacks to defeat other enemies. You will find yourself inhabiting a lot of enemies on your journey and due to the large variety, can easily find your favourites to play as.
There may only be six stages in total included in Avenging Spirit, but they are quite large. And it isn’t as simple as going from left to right as you would expect. I was grateful for the arrows that told me which way to be going. There is a real verticality to levels – as well as three hidden keys to find – throughout. These keys become crucial to opening a special door at the very last level. Without giving the game away, you can probably guess who is hiding behind that door. But even without finding these keys you can still finish the game, though you may not get the ‘true’ ending.
At times you would do well to remind yourself that this is a game from 1991. Multiple endings and a suite of enemies that act wildly different from each other, there is a lot to appreciate here in a thirty-plus year old game.
Even the graphics are excellent for the time. What would today be described as pixel-art feels like an insult to Avenging Spirit as these will have been cutting edge back in the day. One level in particular has market stalls in the background that feel alive with the hustle and bustle of people.
This is a standout moment, as the rest of the backgrounds feel a bit bare by comparison. As good as the art is here, most of the other environments will pass you by without much to draw you in. Character models on the other hand are of a very high standard.
This isn’t just a simple port that can be completed within fifteen minutes either; a criticism thrown at many other Ratalaika titles. You can choose to play Avenging Spirit in either English or the original Japanese version, and in the arcade 1-2 player mode or single player at home mode. Arcade mode allows you to play around with some of the more complex features. Features that even the developers aren’t quite sure how they work with such comments in the description fields like “but it’s not clear whether this has any effect” and “Seems pretty useless, but we left it here in case you can figure out what it does”. I am 100% behind this method of game development.
There are also the standard rewind features and aspect ratio options that we have come to expect from these old-school ports. And the rewind feature is a worthy inclusion; even on the easiest difficulty, Avenging Spirit is a tricky game. It is definitely one of those that will have had players sinking their pocket money into it back in the day.
If not with the aim of completing the game, then that money will have been spent on listening to the banging soundtrack that accompanies Avenging Spirit.
I’m going out on a limb here to say that Avenging Spirit is one of the best games that Ratalaika Games have ever ported. And there are a lot of those games. It feels like you are playing a part of gaming history and it is a wonder how this game hasn’t been more celebrated. With the rewind feature, Avenging Spirit can still be completed in under an hour, but it is a highly original title when compared to what else was out around that time. And even in the year 2022 it is still a fun 2D jaunt, with the Ratalaika Games promise of easy achievements to boot.
Avenging Spirit is available from the Xbox Store