The follow up title to the massively successful Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace landed in arcades in 1984. The reaction was positive, though the game never managed to pull in the numbers of its predecessor. Part of the problem is the intensity of the action, cutting out everyone but the most skilled (or least financially challenged) players. The other issue is the novelty wearing off as arcade goers have been in this territory before.
There’s little to complain about in Space Ace. It’s no different than Dragon’s Lair, only with a change of setting. Players wait for cues to make a simple move (or button press) to reach the next piece of animation. Miss and death is sure to follow.
Dexter is a fun hero to follow, and lead villain Borf is equally enjoyable (though his screen time is limited). The energetic animation and creature designs are a step above, showing marked improvement. There are also some calmer moments of focused dialogue tossed in to develop some type of a story however simple it may be.
Still, one can’t deny that this is the exact type of game that killed an entire platform a few years later, the Sega CD. Chastised for its glut of full-motion video titles, Space Ace is, from a game play perspective, no better than any of those. Its production values and the Don Bluth animation make it look superb, yet this is all a charade for the simplistic memorization required to play it. Being able to play with a remote is more evidence of how archaic this really is.
As opposed to the bland and flat DVD edition, this Blu-ray edition of Space Ace is a marked improvement. As a game, it falters and fails. However, it’s doubtful many will spend the money to actually play this eight-minute game. Most will simply enjoy spotting details they’ve never seen thanks to the incredible clarity, and that’s worth the price alone.
The restoration to the game is nothing short of spectacular. Video is remarkably clear, and the colors have never been this vibrant. A layer of grain is evident and intact. The transfer has trouble when it comes to bright reds and blues, bringing out some noticeable compression artifacts that detract from the otherwise pristine presentation.
The remixed 5.1 audio is robust in terms of its rear speaker activity. Lasers and enemies fly through the sound field as if the audio track was produced with modern audio equipment. Sadly, the soundtrack is almost lost. Not only does it come off flat (as do the explosions), it doesn’t carry the fidelity of the sound effects.
On Blu-ray, the option to simply watch instead of play the proceedings makes it easy to appreciate the work that went into creating it. The full video commentary includes everything, including all deaths and flipped frames to pad the running time. Don Bluth, Rick Dyer, and Gary Goldman reminisce about their time making the game, though tend to dwell on the HD aspects for too long, and then spend additional time discussing Dragon’s Lair.
A section on the disc features creator interviews, and this seems like snippets cut from the commentary. This runs for about six minutes. A progression reel includes comparisons of the HD versions to others, including lower editions like the Amiga. Not all versions are covered, but this feature does get the point across. Options in terms of play include setting the number of lives, choosing the original or widescreen version, and setting the difficulty (tip: the game is always brutally hard).