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Legend of Hero Tonma (TurboGrafx-16) artwork

Legend of Hero Tonma (TurboGrafx-16) review

"Fans of the arcade Tonma will embrace this much easier to play rendition, as things have been toned down to approachable levels for the Turbo version. With practice, you’ll soon find it feasible to beat Tonma on one man, something that seems nigh-impossible with the obstinate original coin-op. "

Young man, you’d better go back here. Do you think that you can return alive once you go into this island? You must regret it later.

This action game straight from the arcades is good - much better than the poorly translated line that opens it. Legend of Hero Tonma reminds me of Ninja Spirit, the brilliant arcade ninja game, also by IREM. Tonma is no ninja though; he's Merlin's top apprentice and all-around good guy, who must rescue a fair maiden and bring peace to the kingdom amid evil beasts and insults hurled his way by the game between levels. Well, they’re not so much insults as messages from some unknown presence doubting your competence. Someone doesn’t think you can do it, the bastard, so go on and prove them wrong.

You’ve never heard of Ninja Spirit? Don’t feel too bad - the game wasn’t a massive Double Dragon-esque hit in the arcades, and its near-perfect lone home translation was for the Turbografx-16, a console hardly known for its widespread appeal and popularity. If you have heard of it, and better yet - played it - then you’ll have a good feel for Tonma (failing that, the game plays a lot like Ghouls ‘n Ghosts as well).

The extremely high floaty jumps, the weird little demon enemies, the authentic, inspired Japanese tunes, and even some of the sound effects, pay homage to Tonma’s more realistic forerunner, Ninja Spirit (explosions sound exactly the same in both games).

Fans of the arcade Tonma will embrace this much easier to play rendition, as things have been toned down to approachable levels for the Turbo version. With practice, you’ll soon find it feasible to beat Tonma on one man, something that seems nigh-impossible with the obstinate original coin-op.

Tonma is still far from easy though; it does feature the usual one-hit-and-you’re-dead IREM trademark deaths, but thankfully IREM’s other trademarks - power-up-enabling start back points and unlimited continues - have both made the trip intact as well. The challenge curve ends up being ideal because your dependence on the continues will gradually, inevitably, smoothly decrease, until you're able to run right through the game in thirty minutes of vibrant, vigorous button pounding (eventually, Tommy won’t even mind that you’re chatting on the phone while you lead him about. The person on the other end of the line might though, as she is no doubt pouring her heart out to you expecting empathy and not ‘yeah uh huh’ in return, but I digress).

Good for you! I never imagined that you could come this far. But much fiercer creatures will block your way from here. Can you surely save the legendary princess?

Many of Tonma's monsters have laughable names, and because it’s hard to tell if eliciting this kind of reaction was intended, we’ll relegate the effect to the realms of ‘kitsch’, rather than ‘high comedy’. That guy with the gun? He’s a Hunter. The helmeted gladiator who hurls fireballs at you? Why, that’s your Fireman. An old man who creeps oddly along the ground in hopes of tripping you, is appropriately named the Tripman. While these monikers are dubious choices because of their total lack of creativity, the kitsch top spot goes to the purple tongue-lashers who emerge from beneath the earth. IREM has named these creatures, Leon.

The game opens to atmospheric music and a relatively easy jaunt through the Ruins. You’ll get your first taste of the little ubiquitous axe men (dubbed Blue Bats - and don't ask) who pursue you and try to run you down. Zombies emerge from caskets that are propped up like telephone booths throughout the environs; it’s never this easy to find a phone when you need one. You can bounce on most enemies’ heads, but unlike other cutesy games, doing so doesn’t inflict any damage; it simply immobilizes the target for a few moments. A skeleton greets you at the end of the line in this first area, and he can prove very difficult if you don’t know what to shoot at. I’ve defeated him in seconds, but I’ve also spend minutes trying to dispatch the lifeless swordsman.

The Cliff is where the Ninja Spirit influence is most obvious since the vertical layout here is much like the tree-climbing exercise from that game. Killagon, the tree dragon barring your way to level three, feels like a Ghouls boss. Flee the tree, and find yourself traversing toppling bridges in the Woods, finally coming face to trunk with Spout Sprout. Try to ignore the fact that the name of the old Oak reminds you of one of those one-page 'jokes' from the Archie comics, and avoid the seeds that drop from above - all while the huge tree belches up tiny, hopping versions of itself from its fireplace-like mouth.

Your next boss confrontation closes out the Statue stage, and uses as a backdrop an ugly fish demon (Dagon, perhaps?) composed entirely of rock. Two strapping lads toss massive, bouncing boulders down at you from their princely pedestals. More great names here: the manual calls them Sausages (I wouldn’t dream of making that up)! What does IREM know that we don’t?

Next, the Dungeon serves up a jazzy score, and introduces you to a huge rock face with a nasty underbite hiding a stone-throwing crone within. The Castle level that follows is a fitting penultimate challenge, as it is heavy on the massive fire-balling statues and welcomes powerful, annoying flying enemies into the fray. One-hit deaths will haunt you here. Finally, the oddly-named last level, the Eeriest… (the ellipses are part of the name) brings you to the final fight with a sadistic grinning evil that would make Loki proud.

Tonma is unapologetic for his frustrating deaths, and the relative shortness of his adventure. He more than makes up for these failings with accessible, entertaining and colorful levels; memorable tunes and hard (at first), but addictive Ghouls-like action. Run, jump and shoot frantically, power up your magic shot to fire multiple streams, then add a homing shot, a rainbow shot, and finally a circle of four blue energy balls that orbit Tonma to shield him as he goes.

All of the monsters are annihilated. The story of your brave rescue of the princess will be handed down through generations… as a splendid legend.

This message comes up after the fifth and sixth levels are finished. It initially led me to believe I had cleared the game after beating the fifth level, and again after stomping the sixth. The first time, I put the controller down and pumped my fist in triumph only to be eradicated when the next level began. Shame on you IREM; the game is hard enough without resorting to such dirty tricks.

Tonma is tough, but endearing, and what might appear to be the simplistic, uninspiring use of some generic Ghouls ‘n Ghosts or Ninja Spirit game engine ends up being more approachable than the former, with more replay value than the latter.

Yes, the replay value is that high despite a general lack of secrets, or multiple paths or characters. The reason being - as the game's ending assures us - as long as we have courage, spare time, and stress to relieve, ''Tommy'' will always be on our minds. Or something like that.

Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (December 05, 2003)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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