When it comes to classic/retro gaming, most people would probably be amazed at just how many truly great, obscure classics there are out there that they’ve not only never played, but likely never even heard of. And so, as part of my ongoing Retro Ministry, I intend to reacquaint folks with some of these forgotten gems over time. As comes with the territory, these entries will not be about the bigger, more popular games that a lot more people know about. No, instead, these will strictly be focused on games that are rare, but awesome.
First up, we’re going to look at a little number called “Avenging Spirit”, or as it was known in Japan, “Phantasm”. Avenging Spirit was originally an arcade game by Jaleco, who also brought you such classics as Astyanax, the Bases Loaded series, and the Rushing Beat series. With Avenging Spirit, however, you had a game that was a bit ahead of it’s time and rather unique in it’s approach. It was, at it’s core, another action/platformer type of game, similar to Mario, Mega Man or Contra. But where AS really stood out, was also the “gimmick” that made it incredibly fun. The plot can be summarized as follows: You’re a dude who was walking his girlfriend home one night, when you are ambushed by villainous agents, who kidnap your girlfriend, and shoot you down, leaving you for dead. You come back as a ghost, and your girlfriend’s father, a research scientist specializing in spectral phenomenon, wants you to try and get his daughter back, as she’s being held for random to ensure her father’s aid in nefarious plans.
So that’s the basic setup. You play as a ghost, and while you have the awesome ability to possess enemies to use their powers, the catch is that if the body you’re inhabiting dies, you have a limited amount of time to possess another body, otherwise your energy will dissipate, you’ll pass on to the “Other Side”, and your mission to save your girlfriend will have failed. So while you get this bad ass ability to basically play as a wide assortment of various characters with all sorts of weapons and powers, you’re also challenged by your spectral limitations. And when I say you can possess enemies, literally, you can take over and play as pretty much every enemy type in the game, except for the bosses. Naturally. As you can see above, you get an energy bar for your ghost, which goes down every time you leave a possessed body, as well as a life-bar for the enemies you possess at the bottom of the screen.
Different enemy types also give you varying speed, strength, jumping power, etc., in addition to their unique weapon. Of those enemy types, as mentioned, for a game from 1991, you get a pretty healthy selection to choose from. They include, as seen above, nefarious 1930s mobsters complete with pistols, and feisty Amazon women who look suspiciously like classic Wonder Woman, who use their raw power to punch waves of force at you. You can also play Rambo-esque commandos with machine guns, ninjas who are very agile and throw stars, goofy wizards with magic wands, a baseball player complete with a bat, a robot, an invisible man, and even a fire breathing DRAGON (probably the coolest thing you can play in the whole game).
You have to use these awesome abilities to make your way through six stages, all while smashing the shit out of enemies, and possessing some at your leisure to accomplish this. Each stage has a boss, of course, and naturally, especially considering it’s an arcade game and wants our quarters, they aren’t easy. You are also tasked with collecting 3 keys in stages 2, 5 and 6 (random I know), which are used at the end of the game to rescue your girlfriend, as if beating the game wasn’t enough. And just to really stick it to you, if you DON’T get all the keys in those stages, you’ll actually be unable to rescue her at all, and even though you can still beat the boss and defeat the bad guys, you’ll actually get a bad ending (SPOILERS). So trust me, you wanna get those damn keys!
The game was also ported a year later in 1992 to the Nintendo Game Boy. Having played both versions, with obvious “downgrades” to graphics and such, the game holds up remarkably well, and I honestly can’t see too much different in the port. The Game Boy version seems to retain most of the enemies, all the stages and bosses, and plays basically the same (if not actually a little bit tighter than the arcade original). Sadly, Avenging Spirit was ONLY ported to the Game Boy and nothing else, which is too bad, because looking at that screenshot above, I could really see it having been great on NES in full color, not to mention being a no-brainier for the 16-bit Super NES. It’s actually a similarly odd case to another obscure arcade gem, Tumble Pop by Data East (which I’ll cover later), that was also ONLY ported to the Game Boy.
Damn Game Boy got all the luck. And while I did have a Game Boy as a kid, I didn’t get one until, I do believe the Christmas of 1993, and I never actually heard of this game until I was an adult. I just think it would have made a great NES game, and I would have had a higher likelihood of perhaps seeing at my local rental store and actually getting to play it as a kid. I only lament this, mind you, because while I love this game as a kid, you know how much more open and enthusiastic about everything you were as a child….I absolutely would have been nuts about this game back then.
Then again, there’s a very long list of games I never got to play or even heard of as a kid that I wouldn’t discover until my teens at least, when internet was more prevalent. Real damn shame, that. BUT, all things considered, the Game Boy version that we did get is a great port of the game, and is actually available for download on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. You can also apparently get a version of the arcade original for iPhone, though personally, I just simply couldn’t see playing old school side-scrollers with those fake touch-screen “buttons” they try to get away with. Me, I need a real controller in my hands! Of course there are “other” means to find and play the arcade version if you wish, and considering that’s how I got to play it, I’ll just say that if you know what I’m talking about and can, by all means enjoy! You’ll be glad you did.