It’s a plot device as old as storytelling itself; The princess has been kidnapped by a dragon, you must venture to save her, vanquishing ghouls, monsters, and dragons along the way. In 1987 Namco decided to take that story and tweak it just a bit, the ending result, a vertical fantasy shooter known as Dragon Spirit! While this game was ported from arcade cabinet, to multiple home consoles, this review is going to focus heavily the TurboGrafx port of this incredible game.
In Dragon Spirit you play a warrior named Amul as he journeys to save princess Alicia after she has been kidnapped by Zawell, a serpent demon that has escaped after a thousand years. He points his sword to the sky and vows to save the princess, in doing so his sword is struck by lightening and he is transformed into a blue dragon. After defeating eight of Zawell’s strongest beasts you are given the opportunity to fight Zawell himself and rescue Alicia for the kingdom.
Dragon Spirit approaches the vertical shooter genre in a way that not many had thought of at the time, and many still forget to take advantage of. With the “shoot-em-up” genre being over saturated with lone pilots battling in the dark void of space against an alien horde, you are piloting your dragon through rich forests, caverns, and dungeons. You are able to move Amul in 8 different directions, breath fire at oncoming enemies, drop bombs as predators below, upgrade your firepower with over 13 different power ups, and have your dragon grow multiple heads! All of these features combine to make for a breath of fresh air to the genre.
While this game was ported to other home consoles around the same era, the TurboGrafx port is arguably the best. The 16-bit GPU of the TurboGrafx made it possible for the game to remain relatively unchanged from the arcade version. While the arcade version as one more level and boss to fight before getting to the end, the home console version held its integrity with the stunning graphics, speedy gameplay, and a unique aesthetic that made it stand out among the competition. All in all this game is enjoyable for first time players or gamers wanting to try something new!