Dragon Spirit is a vertical scrolling shoot-'em-up that Namco originally produced for the arcades in 1987 and then ported to multiple home consoles during the next couple of years. Now, the TurboGrafx-16 version of Dragon Spirit is available from Nintendo's Virtual Console shop for 600 Wii points ($6). If you hadn't heard of the game until now, you're not alone. It isn't a cult classic or some hidden gem. It's just a boilerplate shooter that puts players in control of a fire-breathing dragon...a dragon that is a huge, slow-moving bullet magnet.
Each of the game's eight stages takes place above prehistoric landscapes decorated with bubbling swamps and erupting volcanoes. As the terrain scrolls downward, you need to avoid the pyroclastic clouds caused by those eruptions and shoot your way through the constant swarms of reptilian beasts that appear. The 2D graphics are attractive and detailed, while the soundtrack has a soothing Arthurian vibe to it. However, the gameplay is mostly unremarkable. Some enemies will follow you, but the majority just fly into view, fire off a couple of tiny bullets, and then disappear. Your own dragon character is large and menacing, but his firepower consists of the same generic attacks found in Xevious, one of Namco's earlier shoot-'em-up games. Depending on the button you push, you can spit fireballs at targets on the ground or in the sky and occasionally swap to a three-way shot or homing missiles by picking up orbs that enemies leave behind. The only remotely interesting wrinkle is that you can collect blue orbs to add a second and third head to your dragon, which effectively doubles or triples your shot output.
At the very least, you'd think controlling a dragon--even one with lame attacks--would be fun for a short time. Unfortunately, right from the start, this dragon's massive size and sluggish maneuverability make it difficult to avoid enemies or bullets. That's a big problem when you consider that the enemies are actually rather speedy and the screen is usually full of bullets from the second stage forward. To make matters worse, adding another head doesn't just double your firepower. It also increases your dragon's size, which makes the task of squeezing past hazards all the more difficult. You can absorb three hits before you lose a life, although that's not much help.
If you're looking for a "classic" shoot-'em-up to play on your Wii, you'll find plenty of better options than Dragon Spirit waiting for you in the Virtual Console shop. None of those games lets you control a fire-breathing dragon with multiple heads, but being a dragon is no fun anyway when you're constantly getting knocked out of the sky by tiny bullets and creatures that you can't avoid.