One nice aspect of the Wii's Virtual Console service is that it gives you the opportunity to play games you may have missed the first time around. When Irem first brought Legend of Hero Tonma, the company's cute knockoff of Capcom's Ghosts 'N Goblins, to the TurboGrafx-16, it skated under the collective radar because Nintendo and Sega had a veritable lock on people's buying habits. "Hakuna matata," or no worries, as the Swahili would say. The game is available once again, this time for the Wii's Virtual Console service, which means you can discover for yourself how exciting this little-known action romp is.
Upon first impression, you might have trouble accepting that the cute, pudgy characters are constantly shooting at or trying to stab one another. You're also bound to laugh at the stiffly translated cinematic scenes that refer to the main character as "Tommy," instead of Tonma. Indeed, the game exudes its own unique brand of charm. However, it's also a solidly designed run-and-gun that frequently resembles Capcom's Ghosts 'N Goblins, complete with its own haunting but rather upbeat soundtrack.
You control a caped hero named Tommy who can run, jump, bounce off of enemies' heads, and throw fireballs. Like the hero in Ghosts 'N Goblins, Tommy can fire only in the direction he's facing (not up or down). You'd think that'd be a problem, but there are loads of different fireball upgrades you can grab that will expand the coverage of Tommy's magical outbursts, as well as tack on bonus firepower in the form of homing shots. Each of the game's six levels offers plenty of platform-jumping and loads of enemies to shoot. There's even some exploring, as you'll occasionally have to locate a key or switch to open a locked door. And, in typical old-school fashion, you'll battle a boss at the end of each level.
The first few times you play, you're going to die, often. Enemies never stop appearing, the bosses can blanket the screen with magic, and Tommy dies after only a single hit. As you continue to play, though, you'll get used to mashing the attack button and jumping like a cricket, and you'll realize that the bosses don't take much firepower to put down once you figure out how to avoid their easily memorized attack patterns. You can also continue as often as you like from the current level, which, combined with the Wii's automatic save state feature, means you don't have to constantly replay levels you've already beaten.
That friendliness is really the only major flaw with Legend of Hero Tonma. The game has its tough spots, but you ultimately won't need more than a few hours to master it. However, those few hours are an intense ride, and at 600 Wii points, the cost certainly isn't unreasonable.