Reviewed: December 24, 2001
Released: November, 2001
Ah yes, 1983. I had just graduated high school and was hanging out at the local arcades pretty much full time. I had recently mastered the new laserdisc game, Dragon's Lair and was looking for my next big challenge when a new game called Space Ace, arrived at the arcade. The coolest thing about this new laserdisc game was the addition of "skill levels". The game didn't really get any harder, but if you picked the Space Ace level (rather than Cadet) the game inserted a bunch of extra scenes that were very difficult. The game also featured a main character that could be played as either an adult or a teenager, and your choice affected the way you approached many of the action sequences.
Even after arcades started to vanish from the local malls, these laserdisc games persisted in their popularity, spilling over into the PC world in the form of chopped up versions on floppy and eventually CD-ROMís. Now that DVD-ROMís have become the unspoken standard on most gaming PCís is it really any surprise that Digital Leisure is once again trying to milk the genre one more time on this new format?
I must mention that this game, along with the rest of the titles in the rapidly growing Digital Leisure library are not designed specifically for any gaming system. You may see stickers claiming they are compatible for the PS2 or the Xbox, but they are DVD video games, and as such will play on any DVD player whether it be a PS2, Xbox, PC, or a standalone component player in your home theater rig.
None of these games have been endorsed by Sony or Microsoft - they just simply happen to work on these systems because they support the DVD format. Do NOT be fooled into thinking these are special versions or that they make use of any of your system-specific features.
Space Ace was a refreshing break from Dragon's Lair, which was already growing stale after only a few short months. Space Ace offered the same amazing graphics of Dragon's Lair created by Disney animator, Don Bluth (Land Before Time, American Tail, Titan A.E.). The game featured the expected trailer with a booming narrators voice and clips from the game that always caused a crowd to gather, first at the game then the token dispenser. The nature of the game was memorization. You only had five possible actions; up, down, left, right, and fire.
Even though the game prompted your next action with flashes of light overlaid on the animation, these visual cues only allowed for about one second of error and you could never win by reflexes alone. Timing was critical, and if you got too confident and started pressing the joystick or button too soon you would also die. Only after several dozen (or was it hundreds) of tokens did you finally master the timing and find your "zone". Then you were unstoppable...you were "Ace".
The gameplay is as simple as it gets. You control 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 by moving the joystick or swinging your sword. Act too soon or react to late and you get to witness one of the dozens of horrible, yet humorous death scenes. The action scenes are randomized each time you start a new game, so you never know which one is coming next, and each scene is also duplicated with a mirror image of itself, thus doubling the game's length. If you manage to make it through all the various challenges you will reach the final battle with Borf whom you must defeat if you are to rescue your girlfriend, Kimberly.
Space Ace introduced a few new features to the already-stale genre of laserdisc games. You could choose between two skill levels. Cadet was just the basic game, while Space Ace added many more action sequences of increasing difficulty. There are some excellent space ship sequences where you are piloting a small fighter ship in all sorts of hostile environments and combat situations. This DVD version includes all the scenes from the Space Ace mode with no option to pick your skill. If you finish this game you are truly a "space ace".
The other new feature is the "Infanto Ray" that keeps turning Ace into an awkward teenager who resembles a young Jerry Lewis. From time to time you are given the option to "Energize" and turn back into the space hunk, Ace. Doing so usually results in a harder path to follow or a more complex action sequence. It's up to you how to proceed at this points. The nice thing is there is enough of these decision points to actually give the game some replay value.
The continuing fault in these DVD games lies in the hardware we are forced to play it on. When Space Ace debuted it was being played on a 12" laserdisc on an industrial laserdisc player with amazing seek and random access times. The way the game is laid out, based on your actions the game would skip to certain sections of the disc to play the appropriate scene. Back in 1983 this was seamless, but today, even after two decades of technological advancements, the typical home DVD player whether it be Xbox, PC, PS2 or home theater component, just doesn't have fast enough access. This results in large and very annoying pauses about every 10-15 seconds during the game as your hardware scans for the next scene. These pauses ruin an otherwise flawless game.
The game looks stunning and is probably even better than the original laserdisc version from 1983. The video is crystal clear and looks just like any feature Disney animation then or now. Don Bluth is a masterful animator and you can really tell that a lot of time and care went into the creation of this game. The colors are rich and vibrant and the characters are delightful. The final action sequence with Borf is one of the best battles in 80's gaming history. When you find your rhythm you really feel you are controlling the actions of Ace.
The sounds and music are excellent and presented in Dolby Digital. The booming voice of the narrator gets you pumped up during the opening movie. Ace is great as the awkward teenage trying to impress his girlfriend, and even better as the overconfident and overbearing adult hero. Kimberly is suitably annoyed through most of the game and nags Ace to the point where I'm surprised he still wants to save her. The raspy deep voice of Borf is as evil as it is humorous.
As with all of these laserdisc games, it's all about memorization. Space Ace mixes it up a bit by throwing in mirror images of some scenes, so you need to get your bearings before tapping into those memorized patterns. With unlimited continues you can easily finish this game in less than two hours, and the more you play the faster you can do it. Nothing really changes other than the order of the action scenes, so there is little motivation to replay the game other than to show off your skills to your friends.
Space Ace has made appearances on the PC in floppy, CD and DVD format. This is the first version to include all of the scenes the original laserdisc offered, as many of them were cut in previous versions to fit the game on the limited space of those formats. This version has also been remastered for DVD to offer the best visuals since the original. The DVD also includes interviews with Don Bluth and Rick Dyer, the co-creators of the game.
Despite the great looks and sound and even the entertaining, albeit limited gameplay, this game fails simply because there isn't any hardware readily available to run it as fast as it needs to be run. Playing the Space Ace DVD is like watching your favorite animated feature and hitting the PAUSE button every 15 seconds. It totally takes you out of the experience and ruins the game, which is a shame because this game is truly a classic and should be enjoyed by a new generation of gamers.