Title  : Space Ace
Platforms  : DVD-Video
Publisher  : Digital Leisure
Review by  : Ken Gagne

There was once a clear distinction between movies, computers, and video games, the latter two still in their infancy. It was surprisingly early in the Eighties that these media began to merge. Before "An American Tail" and "The Land Before Time", Don Bluth and cohort Rick Dyer produced a game that, though simplistic in gameplay, was technologically years ahead of its time. Using a laser disc, they placed a movie-quality animated feature in an arcade cabinet, and allowed gamers to decide how the movie would play out. 

In Space Ace, the evil commander Borf has developed an Infanto Ray, which reverts its victims to helpless children. His first move is to kidnap Kimberly, the girlfriend of the meddlesome hero Ace, and to hit Ace with the Infanto Ray. In the clumsy body of a child, with temporary bursts of physical maturity, Ace must save the girl, save the world, and beat the bad guy. 

Space Ace, like its predecessor Dragon's Lair, has been rereleased in DVD-Video format by Digital Leisure. DVD-Video games can be played on any DVD (Digital Video Disc) movie player, using the remote control. There's no need for a separate computer, DVD-ROM drive, Internet access, or joystick. 

The game plays like a movie with players controlling Ace's reaction to events. Every two seconds or so, an object on the screen will flash, and Ace must move in that direction. Pushing the wrong button, or no button, spells instant doom. 

There is a brief pause after these events as the DVD player reads the input and plays the appropriate reaction sequence (either continuing with the game-movie, or playing a death sequence). The length of this pause depends on the DVD player: the older (or cheaper) the unit, the longer the pause. Slower machines (especially older Sony players) may have trouble reading the input quickly enough, in which case the game can be played in "slow" mode, which grants two seconds to make each move. 

A diamond appears in the lower-right corner of the screen when it is time to input a move. The button pressed appears in the diamond: yellow if correct, blue if incorrect. This provides a process of elimination for finding the right move to make. It also eliminates the timing factor of the arcade original in which it had to be guessed when to make a move. However, the diamond often appears moments before the flash, leading players to make rash, unfounded, fatal decisions. 

Space Ace lacks the humor of its predecessor, Dragon's Lair. Ace talks often enough to know that, for some reason, we don't like him, whereas Lair's hero, Dirk the Daring, mutely and comically bumbled through the castle. Ace's death sequences are rarely funny, with his lines falling flat, but Dirk would always find a way to go out with silly style. 

The audio component has not translated well to DVD. The quantity of speech and background music would normally make for a more captivating experience, but the constant pauses between input and execution precludes that possibility. It's hard to be attentive to actors being cut off in mid-sentence and music cresting as often as it is quelled. 

The game disc provides several extra features outside the game. For fans of both the game and movie aspects, Space Ace can be played as a movie with no player interaction. Roughly three minutes of uninterrupted audio and video give novices a glimpse of future stages, and some hints of what actions to take to get there. For historian buffs, exclusive newscasts and interviews with the game's creators are included on the disc. These clips from the 1980's focus more on Dragon's Lair and the people behind the games than on Space Ace itself. 

Space Ace was simple to begin with, and it hasn't changed for the Nineties. With the same gameplay and new historical footage, this release appeals more to fans of the arcade original than it does to the current generation of gamers. Space Ace is a short, mildly-amusing game, and an innovative way to use your DVD player. 

Space Ace is incompatible with Toshiba 2109/3109 and most Samsung and Aiwa DVD players. [note: in late October '99, Digital Leisure informed me that Toshiba has fixed this problem; "apparently all units shipped beginning in the summer have the new firmware. Customers with older versions of these model players can contact Toshiba and have their unit updated to the new firmware" which requires the unit physically be sent to Toshiba for the update.]

This article is copyright (c) 1999, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.

Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 06-Sep-99