Reviewed: July 12, 2009
Released: July 3, 2009
App Store Price: $4.99
Iíve been playing Space Ace for the past 25 years, ever since it got wheeling into my local arcade back in 1984. Iíve been reviewing the various home versions of the game since 2001 when it arrived on the original Xbox as well as a remastered HD version for the PC in 2007 and the Blu-ray release in 2008. Between Space Ace and Dragonís Lair Digital Leisure is making sure we donít forget that classic arcade genre of the Laserdisc video game.
Following in the footsteps of Dragonís Lair, Space Ace featured stunning feature-quality animation and gameplay that relied entirely on memorization and reflexes. The game follows the adventures of the sometimes-suave hero Ace. At the start of the game, the villainous Commander Borf attacks Ace with the "Infanto Ray", a weapon that transforms him into an adolescent version of himself, and kidnaps his girlfriend Kimberly. It is up to the player to guide Dexter - Ace's younger incarnation - through a series of obstacles in pursuit of Borf, in order to rescue Kimberly and prevent Borf from using the Infanto Ray to conquer Earth.
I was curious to see how the game would unfold on the iPhone and the results were pretty much what I expected. You get a slightly transparent virtual D-pad in the right corner that allows you to tap the direction you want to move. You can cycle through three sizes of arrows depending on how big your fingers are and how precisely you can hit the arrows under pressure. The blaster and Energize button is in the opposite corner. The mechanics work well enough although your finger or thumb is perpetually hovering over the screen blocking out much of the amazing artwork from Don Bluth and his talented team.
The nature of the game is memorization so you can eventually master the list of required moves, but Space Ace takes the formula a bit further by giving you three skill levels to choose from; Cadet, Captain, or Ace. Only by playing the game on Ace level would you see all the action sequences whereas Cadet offered about half the game experience, but adds the flashing hint system that actually lights up the arrow you need to hit at the proper time.
Space Ace also adds the ďEnergizeĒ feature where you are able to morph into the mighty Ace. This allows you the freedom to choose various paths throughout the game since the actions for Ace will differ greatly from those of Dexter. A classic example is in the opening sequence. If you morph into Ace you will have to engage in a blaster fight with several flying robots, but if you ignore the Energize prompt you can simply run to your ship and escape, thus missing an entire extra sequence in the game.
You also have several options to enhance and customize the gameplay including toggles for vibration, and audible beep when you need to make a move, and even an option for infinite lives. You can also reverse the control scheme for lefties and cycle through three sizes of input arrows.
But back to gameplay. You control Dexter/Ace, the hero, through dozens of animated action scenes. At critical points in the action you are given a small window of opportunity to interact with the game/movie. If you fail to make the proper action, or miss that window of opportunity by even a second you will get to witness any of numerous and quite hilarious death sequences. Space Ace is a game of learning through failure and trial by error has never been this entertaining.
The one thing that impressed me the most about the iPhone version of Space Ace is the audio and visual presentation which far surpasses that of any other release; even the HD version, Any bits of artifacts or glitches have been compressed away resulting in a perfect picture. The colors are sharp and the imagery is so vivid itís like watching a digital copy of your favorite animated movie.
The game's animation features some traditional rotoscoping, wherein models were built of Ace's spaceship "Star Pac", his motorcycle, and the tunnel in the game's exciting dogfight sequence. These were then filmed and traced over to render moving animated images with very realistic depth and perspective. The colors are rich and vibrant and the characters are delightful. Even the scarier creatures have a humorous side that makes this game great for kids of all ages.
The sounds and music are better than ever, even listening with the built-in speaker, but things get amazing when you plug in some quality headphones. The booming voice of the narrator, Michael Rye narrates the attract sequence (which is included as a menu option) and will get you pumped up to play the game. Itís also a great way to show the game to others in about 20 seconds. To keep the production costs down, the studio again chose to use its staff to provide voices for the few speaking parts in this game. A digitally altered Don Bluth provides the voice of Commander Borf.
Another slight detraction from the mobile version of Space Ace is that this game has always been a bit about "showing off". At a subconscious level we all played and mastered these laserdisc games at the arcade in order to impress the masses that would gather around and cheer you on. Playing on your iPhone pretty much negates that exhibitionist thrill; another reason this is simply a game for loyal fans of the genre to relive their misspent youth. Space Ace is only $5 on the app store, which is a small price to pay considering it used to cost a dollar for three lives at the arcade 25 years ago.
Despite the great Disney-quality visuals and sound and even the entertaining, albeit limited gameplay, Space Ace is admittedly a bit shallow and is designed for loyal laserdisc fans and gamers my age. Those looking for something of depth or a more traditional action game may want to look elsewhere. There is no denying that Space Ace is a timeless classic, and this latest version is a great way to take the action on the road. I am still unable to resist the mesmerizing visuals and the memorizing gameplay, and I look forward to other classic laserdisc games being ported to my iPhone soon.
ďBe valiant, space warrior; the fate of Earth is in your hands!Ē