Tag Archives: jaleco

FGC #540 Avenging Spirit

Avenging Spirit is a game that is best known for the differences in its regional box art. In Japan, there was Phantasm, and it looked like this:

Can you feel the spirit?

Whereas when it was time to sell “Avenging Spirit” to Americans, we saw a box that looked like this:

USA! USA!

And this is definitely a case of intending the book to be judged by its cover, as, give or take a translation, we’ve got the exact same game in both cases. There is no greater emphasis on tommy guns in Avenging Spirit, and the exact same goofy ghost of Phantasm is the star of both versions. Avenging Spirit attempted to gain notoriety in American arcades before the release of its home version, so the good folks at Jaleco’s marketing department thought they could goose sales by focusing on mobsters and vengeance rather than anime ghosts.

And that probably would have worked… if an American company hadn’t used the exact same concept in 1940.

Avenging Spirit is a platforming action game. Fundamentally, it is little more than Mega Man. You run. You jump. You generally have the ability to shoot. There is a boss at the end of every stage, and they run the gamut from whack-a-mole snakes to Dr. Wily’s signature pod’s second cousin twice removed. Some stages are predominantly vertical, some are extremely horizontal, and they all have way too many spikes. Hey! Don’t blame the game! Blame the quarters! But if you are looking for a little extra, rare (for the time) challenge, you can collect three hidden keys hidden randomly across the worlds of Avenging Spirit. Find them all, and you’ll earn the “good ending” wherein you successfully rescue a kidnapped damsel. Miss even a single key, and your hero will celebrate the destruction of the enemy’s base by solemnly fading into nothingness. That’s the life of a spirit for ya!

Oh yeah, guess we have to address that whole avenging spirit angle.

Spirited awayThe hook for Avenging Spirit is pretty great. Your protagonist is a ghost. That means you can fly around the screen at will, opponents can’t hurt (or presumably even see) you, and you’re free to do whatever. Only caveat? Every moment you’re an unprotected spirit, you are losing health. That’s no good! But there is a solution: you can possess your opponents, and use their bodies however you like. And, let’s be clear here, with the exception of bosses, you can possess absolutely any “monster” stalking these levels. And all of your possible victims are varied and distinct! There are kung-fu ladies with crazy agility but lousy stamina, gangsters loaded to the bear with weaponry, Rambo for some reason, a yogi mystic that can kick and fly (!), and even a few dragon people and robots. You’ve got options upon options! And, since your chosen meat shield is probably going to expire pretty quickly anyway, you’ll be hopping from body to body often throughout the adventure. It’s basically a high-stakes version of Kirby’s Adventure where you try out a new skin suit anytime you get bored. … And is that more or less creepy than your average cannibalism-based platformer?

But lest you think you’re some random ghost that just decided to fight criminal organizations one day, there is a dedicated story/excuse for Avenging Spirit, too. The eponymous spirit technically starts this adventure as an average boy wandering around with his average girlfriend. But! Oh no! Disaster strikes when a murder of mobsters gun down our hero and kidnap his dear girlfriend. But all is not lost! Turns out your girlfriend’s dad was researching ghost energy, and Dr. Spengler is going to bring you back to un-life for the express purpose of rescuing his daughter. So you are the avenging spirit, off to save the day and (hopefully) save your best gal along the way.

And if that plot sounds remarkably familiar, it is because it is nearly exactly the original origin story of DC Comic’s The Spectre.

GangstaIn 1940, Jerry Siegel, one of the creators of Superman, premiered The Spectre in More Fun Comics #52. Spectre’s origin was practically already relayed in this article: Jim Corrigan was on his way to his fiancée’s engagement party (I’m no marriagologist, but wouldn’t that be his party, too?), when he was stopped by mobsters that killed him and fitted him with the ol’ cement shoes (or maybe a barrel). Jimmy would have been left to rot on the floor of the bay, but a mysterious, potentially omnipotent entity revives Jim Corrigan with the express purpose of avenging his own murder. Corrigan is revived as The Spectre, a vaguely superheroic apparition that wastes no time in saving his fiancée from those same thugs that led to his own end. Undead James decides to break off the engagement (apparently being a ghost-man is not as sexy as Patrick Swayze would lead you to believe), but he does continue living his “life” as The Spectre, avenging spirit.

But, while there may be similarities, there are more than a few differences between our featured phantasms. Our videogame avenging spirit, for instance, is fueled by science and a grieving father, whereas his comic book counterpart has pretty consistently been on a mission from capital-G God. Yes, that’s right, there is a divine god of the universe in the DC Comics universe, and his primary focus seems to be reanimating dudes so they can menace mobsters. What’s more, there is a drastic difference in power sets between the two specters. Possession is the reason for the season for Avenging Spirit, but The Spectre started his tenure by using godly power to visit divine punishment upon his foes. In short, Avenging Spirit is a weak ghost in need of a host to so much as throw a kick, while The Spectre has enough power to fight the anti-creator of the universe (the history of the DC universe is as eclectic as it is mind-boggling). In short, these two ghost-men may have similar origins, but their afterlives went in wildly different directions.

And maybe that’s the difference between Eastern and Western fantasies.

It's the invisible manLook, you can slap a mobster on the cover of Avenging Spirit. You can even claim that art is relevant, as the spirit is out for vengeance, and he absolutely can possess a criminal wielding a gun. This is technically something that happens in Avenging Spirit. However, the circumstances of it happening is not what is being displayed on that box. That picture is a mobster that is closer to Scarface, a villain mad with power both real and imagined, and firing wildly at any perceived threat that comes his way. That is patently not what happens in Avenging Spirit. If you possess a mobster in Avenging Spirit, you are doing it to stave off an incremental death that is constantly stalking your digital avatar. You have a “real world” powerful weapon, but your gun barely puts a dent in those robots reprising with missiles. You’re the archetypical “bad guy”, but you’re also just plain a bad guy at jumping. There’s nothing empowering about being an avenging spirit. We’ve got a fun game here, but odds are good you’re going to see the continue screen more than a few times across your quest. And you’ll probably miss a few keys, see the bad ending, and watch your hero fade unfulfilled into the afterlife. Meanwhile, The Spectre does not dissipate into some Heaven-based reward. The Spectre friggen’ turns his opponents into helpless candles, and then sticks them on some kid’s birthday cake. The Spectre of DC Comics is a living tommy gun, and he’s got the unlimited bullets of God on his side.

Many bodies availableSo good try, Jaleco, you correctly identified that Americans would rather see a spirit of vengeance with unlimited power than the friendly ghost that appeared in Japan. The Spectre has been a marginally successful hero for the last 80 years of DC Comics (I’m pretty sure he’s more popular than Animal Man), while Avenging Spirit barely survived long enough to see a 3DS rerelease. Unfortunately, Avenging Spirit did not offer the ghost power-trip that Americans desire, so it is remembered as little more than a meme on these shores. Yes, Americans want guns and mobsters, but, more than that, we want power, and Avenging Spirit is about as powerful as a faint fart.

… And if anyone at DC Comics wants to create a videogame featuring The Spectre rampaging through a city like Godzilla, go ahead and give me a call. I’ve got some concept documents around here somewhere…

FGC #540 Avenging Spirit

  • System: Gameboy for the home version, arcade for the most colorful version. It was also released on the 3DS Virtual Console in 2011, which seems almost impossible.
  • Number of players: One on the Gameboy, two in the arcade. It is two player alternating, though, which unfortunately negates the joy of two ghosts fighting over possession of one body.
  • Favorite Opponent/Ally: There are these wizard looking dudes that can shoot lightning, and that’s really all I need. The yogis rank second, because they’re terrible at bosses, but the gift of flight is always the bee’s knees.
  • Wildly different graphicsPort-o-Call: The arcade version is lush and colorful, but it is also a dedicated quarter killer. You can’t even de-possess a dude without throwing yourself into suicide. That said, the Gameboy version plays better and seems to be more balanced for actually finishing the game, but the graphics seem more… abstract. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just a matter of the arcade version displaying what things are supposed to look like (yes, that is a dinosaur man walking around) fills in more than a few blanks on the Gameboy version.
  • An end: If you find all the keys, you not only rescue your girlfriend, you possess her as the “final” possession in the game. So you fight the end boss with the overwhelming power of love! And then the ending is… a little weird. Our avenging spirit completely dies, but at least he got to… be his girlfriend for a while? That sounds awkward.
  • Did you know? Okay, yes, DC Comics’ Deadman is closer in powerset to our featured Avenging Spirit. But even he routinely possesses the likes of Batman and Superman, and “I get to be Superman for a little bit, but even more quippy” is its own kind of power fantasy.
  • Would I play again: Why not? This is a fun, unique game, and there really isn’t anything like it out there in its era or this one. I’m not certain Geist ever actually existed, and it’s not like you see Mario possessing his opponents with some manner of magical hat or something.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Splatterhouse! We’re going to splat this and that! Please look forward to it!

Avenge this

FGC #172 Pinball Quest

Questin' Time!It takes a lot to get my attention. I’ve slain dragons. I’ve cast magical spells that would cross a wizard’s eyes. I’ve helped lesbians turn into a crystal pillar that holds up an entire world. There is very little in the world of gaming that gets my attention anymore. I have flown through the skies as the majestic hummingbird, danced with the deities, and one time I got a kangaroo to punch a monkey. And, through it all, it’s all been pretty much the same genres and “game styles” over and over again. Sure, I might be slaying the entire Greek Pantheon this week, but it’s still pretty much “just a beat ‘em up”. Is there nothing new under the sun?

And then there’s Pinball Quest. Pinball Quest is one of the most oddly original games I’ve ever played, and, what’s more, it was released over a quarter of a century ago.

Pinball Quest, as you might be able to guess, involves some pinball. If you’re just interested in pinball, here you go, three pinball boards of varying skill and complexity. Nothing that hasn’t been seen before or since, and, yeah, the boards are pretty alright. Nothing special, nothing El Dorado, but it’s a fun pinball time from the era that still held some affection for “pinball… on your TV!” That part is pretty basic.

Then there’s RPG mode. RPG mode is exactly what it says on the tin: pinball in a RPG setting. It’s bonkers.

In a way, RPGs and Pinball games should work well together. RPGs are all about how you suck. Wait, no, that came out wrong. What I mean to say is that the combat in RPGs, the basic meat and potatoes of the genre, is entirely based on the fact that you will take damage. Pew Pew?This isn’t a Mario or Mega Man game where you could conceivably never take a hit; no, you’re getting smacked around by the first slime you see, and it’s your responsibility to make sure the party stays healed and healthy. In a way, this is an expression of the basic chaos of battle. You’re going to get a few scrapes and bruises, Gilbard is going to faint, but, in the end, (hopefully) you win. Pinball is very similar, in that you have the randomness of “where’s the ball going to go?” Sure, you try your best to hit those bumpers or whatever silly gimmick exists on the board, but, inevitably, that ball isn’t going to go exactly where you want it, and, sometimes, it’s going straight down the middle. Flick the flippers all you want, there’s nothing you can do, Gilball’s gotta die. Do your damndest, hope for the best, and plan for the worst. The pinball and RPG motto.

Pinball Quest’s RPG mode, meanwhile… well… in some ways, it’s much more an Adventure-style game, like Zelda. Each level is a different board arranged something like your typical double-decker pinball machine. Usually there’s some obstacle or gimmick on the lower portion that will grant access to the upper portion (like breaking the right gravestone [bumper] in the graveyard area, or pestering an ogre that will usher your ball into a minecart in the mine area), and then the second portion features a boss and flunkies of some kind. Ram the boss with the ball enough times, and you’ll be granted access to the next level. Repeat six times or so, and you will have defeated the evil king and rescued the princess. Actually, yeah, this is a lot like the original Legend of Zelda. There are even angry skeletons!

Get 'em!And, really, this would be a “Zelda type” if you had absolutely perfect pinball skills (or save states). After all, the gameplay isn’t Fight/Magic/Flipper, it’s much more of an overhead “dodge and stab” affair, with bosses that attack your flippers and a constant need to pelt the monster du jour with your weapon (which just happens to be “you”). This is much more “includes RPG-like elements” than “RPG”.

Except…

You’re gonna lose.

Actually, technically, you kind of can’t lose this game. It’s only possible to get a “game over” on the first (and, technically, “lowest” board), and, even then, you’re given an immediate chance to continue with very few repercussions. You lost, you suck, but the save point is right here, get back in there, soldier! On every other board, you’ll simply be returned to the next previous board, and, if you can nail the “exit” location on your first flip, you’ll be right back in the battle again. Even if your skills aren’t that great, though, you can re-defeat the boss du jour, and move on in that style. Sure, it’ll waste some time, but you’ll make it back… eventually.

But let’s say you’re a human being that actually doesn’t like having his or her time wasted. Well then, we’ve got some items for you! DON'T STEALBetween each stage is a shop, and, since you (naturally) accrue gold from every defeated monster, you can spend that cash on one of two types of items. You may purchase more powerful flippers, which will kill bosses faster, or you may purchase extra balls, which will cause you to immediately “return” to your highest level when you’d otherwise tumble down the gutter. Pick your poison! Are you the confident type that blows it all on a stronger sword, or do you stock up on phoenix downs in anticipation of a costly blood bath? Play the role of the ball, and plan for your game.

And, after a fashion, Pinball Quest proves to be a “real” RPG. The gameplay might be bopping around the adventure board all afternoon, and fighting wizards, demons, and succubae might show up in a few other genres; but what’s important here is that you, player, are planning ahead and determining how resources are spent… in a pinball environment. You’re going to need that potion, and it doesn’t matter if you’re using the fight command or flicking a ball at a perfect angle, it all winds up being an RPG in the end.

And we haven’t seen anything like it in 25 years. More’s the pity.

FGC #172 Pinball Quest

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, though, admittedly, kind of late in its lifespan (that would be defined as “anything after Castlevania 3”).
  • VIVA!Number of players: Thanks to controller passing, the “standard” pinball boards all allow for up to four players. RPG mode is, as ever, a solitary affair.
  • Favorite Standard Board: Viva Golf is pretty fun, as it includes more moles than Caddyshack, and the anime figures seem to fit into the course rather well. What? I have a peculiar fondness for the late 80’s Japanese aesthetic.
  • Favorite RPG Mode Boss: The boss of the fifth stage initially appears to be your kidnapped princess, but transforms into a deadly succubus after a few (maybe accidental) hits. I realize that this has become something of a standard trope in recent years (decades), but it seemed fairly original in 1990.
  • Speaking of Princesses: Ya know, there’s nothing that codifies the heroic Ball as male or female. Feel free to claim this is one of the few gender progressive NES games… even if you are rescuing a princess (yet again).
  • An End: Oh, and the finale sees the hero and princess trounce a gigantic (compared to a pinball), apparently sentient magnet.
    What?

    And here I thought gravity was the ultimate enemy.
  • Did you know? The box art for Pinball Quest shows a reflected skeleton warrior. Given the skeletons only exist for the first level, I’m going to assume the box artist did not get very far in this game.
  • Would I play again? Hey, sure. If I’m in the mood for pinball, I may as well knock over some turtles while doing it.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Scope 6 for the Super Nintendo! Oh boy! Bazooka action? Wow! Please look forward to it! Not at all sarcastically!