|Developer(s)||Advanced Microcomputer Systems|
|Publisher(s)||Cinematronics, Digital Leisure (current)|
|Release||April 29, 1984|
|Genre(s)||Action Interactive Movie|
|Mode(s)||Up to 2 players, alternating turns|
|Display||Horizontal orientation, Raster, standard resolution|
Space Ace is a laserdisc video game produced by Don Bluth Studios, Cinematronics and Advanced Microcomputer Systems (later renamed RDI Video Systems). It was unveiled in October 1983, just four months after the Dragon's Lair game, then released in Spring 1984, and like its predecessor featured film-quality animation played back from a laserdisc.
The gameplay is also similar, requiring the player to move the joystick or press the fire button at key moments in the animated sequences to govern the hero's actions. However, the game's action was more varied with the player occasionally given the temporary option to either have the character he is controlling transform back into his adult form, or remain as a boy with different styles of challenges.
Don Bluth has announced during the crowdfunding for Dragon's Lair: The Movie that he is making a Space Ace short film.
Like Dragon's Lair, the gameplay of Space Ace requires the player to move the joystick in the right direction or press the fire button at the right moment to avoid the various hazards Dexter/Ace faces. Space Ace introduced a few gameplay enhancements, most notably selectable skill levels and multiple paths through several of the scenes. At the start of the game the player could select one of three skill levels; "Cadet", "Captain" or "Space Ace" for easy, medium and hard respectively — only by choosing the toughest skill level could the player see all the sequences in the game (only around half the scenes are played on the easiest setting). A number of the scenes had "multiple choice" moments when the player could choose how to act, sometimes by choosing which way to turn in a passageway, or by choosing whether or not to react to the on-screen "ENERGIZE" message and transform back into Ace. Most scenes also have separate reverse versions of each other. Dexter usually progresses through scenes by avoiding obstacles and enemies, but Ace goes on the offensive, attacking enemies rather than running away; although Dexter does occasionally have to use his pistol on enemies when it is necessary to advance. An example can be seen in the first scene of the game, when Dexter is escaping from Borf's robot drones. If the player presses the fire button at the right moment, Dexter transforms temporarily into Ace and can fight them, whereas if the player chooses to stay as Dexter the robots' drill attacks must be dodged instead.
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Space Ace follows the adventures of the dashing hero Dexter, who prefers to be called "Ace." Ace is on a mission to stop the villainous Commander Borf, who is seeking to attack Earth with his "Infanto Ray" to render Earthlings helpless by transforming them into infants. At the start of the game, Ace is partially hit by the Infanto Ray, which transforms him into an adolescent version of himself, and Borf kidnaps his female side-kick Kimberly, who thus becomes the game's "Damsel in Distress." 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 using the Infanto Ray to conquer Earth. However, Dexter has a wristwatch-gadget which can optionally allow Dexter to "ENERGIZE" and temporarily reverse the effects of the Infanto-Ray to turn him back into his adult self "Ace" for a short time, and overcome more difficult obstacles in a heroic manner. The game's attract mode introduces the player to the story via the following narration and dialogue:
- Narrator: Space Ace: Defender of justice, truth and the planet Earth! Ace is being attacked by the evil Commander Borf.
- Ace: Hold your fire! [to Kimberly] Who's that creep?
- Kimberly: Borf!
- Borf: Earthlings must surrender to me!
- Ace: No way, Borf, ol' buddy!
- Borf shoots Ace; Ace turns into a teenager
- Ace: Aargh! I've been hit!
- Kimberly: By the Infanto Ray!
- Borf: Earthlings must surrender to me!
- Narrator: Struggle with Dexter to regain his manhood. Destroy the Infanto Ray. Defeat the evil Borf.
- Ace: Hey, Borf! [laughs] C'mon, Kimberly, let's go!
- Borf shoots Ace
- Ace: I've been hit! [turns into child again] Aargh!
- Narrator: Be valiant, space warrior, the fate of Earth is in your hands!
The animation for Space Ace was produced by the same team that tackled the earlier Dragon's Lair, headed by ex-Disney animator Don Bluth. To keep the production costs down, the studio again chose to use its staff to provide voices for the characters rather than hire actors (one exception is Michael Rye who reprises his role as the narrator of the attract sequence, as he did on Dragon's Lair). Don Bluth himself provides the (electronically altered) voice of Commander Borf. In an interview about the game, Bluth had stated that had the studio been able to afford more professional actors, he thought Paul Shenar would have been more suitable for the role of Borf than himself. The game's animation features some rotoscoping, wherein models were built of Ace's spaceship "Star Pac", his motorcycle, and the tunnel in the game's dogfight sequence, then filmed and traced over to render moving animated images with very realistic depth and perspective.
Space Ace was made available to distributors in two different formats; a dedicated cabinet, and a conversion kit that could be used to turn an existing copy of Dragon's Lair into a Space Ace game. Early version #1 production units of the dedicated Space game were actually issued in Dragon's Lair style cabinets. The latter version #2 dedicated Space Ace units came in a different, inverted style cabinet. The conversion kit included the Space Ace laserdisc, new EPROMs containing the game program, an additional circuit board to add the skill level buttons, and replacement artwork for the cabinet. The game originally used the Pioneer LD-V1000 or PR-7820 laserdisc players, but an adaptor kit now exists to allow Sony LDP series players to be used as replacements if the original player is no longer functional.
Numerous versions of Space Ace were created for home computers and game systems, most of which attempted to mimic the arcade version's lushly animated graphics, with varying degrees of success. A sequel, Space Ace II: Borf's Revenge, was created for the PC mixing new animation with scenes from the original game that were left out of the PC version due to the high amount of memory they comprised. Along with the floppy disk-based versions for Amiga and Atari ST, ReadySoft issued a CD-ROM version featuring downsampled video for the Macintosh which preserved almost all of the original laserdisc content.
In 1991, Leland Corporation released a slightly updated version of Space Ace in the form of a conversion kit for the then recently released Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp. The updated version added more complicated moves (including diagonal moves), and dropped the easier skill levels, meaning only the "Ace" (difficult) level could be played.
Space Ace was also released for the SNES by Absolute Entertainment in 1994. However, since a SNES cartridge has limited storage, it ended up being a side-scroller with levels based on the scenes from the laserdisc. In order to see the credits, the player must get a "Ace" rank on every level, meaning that the player must get a nearly perfect accuracy and collect the disks throughout the level.
The Dragon's Lair Deluxe Pack released by Digital Leisure Inc. in 1997 featured Space Ace along with both arcade Dragon's Lair games. They also released a version of Space Ace on DVD that could be played on most DVD players, although it lacked the skill level select of the arcade version, and also played somewhat differently (if the player made a mistake on the arcade version they simply picked up again roughly where they left off, whereas the DVD version forced the player to replay the entire scene from the beginning).
DAPHNE, an emulator for laserdisc based games, can emulate both the original version and the 1991 version. DAPHNE requires the ROM files plus the original laserdisc to run. Alternatively, an MPEG-2 video stream and Ogg Vorbis audio stream can be substituted for the laserdisc. These streams can be generated from the original laserdisc or from Digital Leisure's DVD.
Like Dragon's Lair, a comic book mini series incorporating elements from both the game and Saturday Supercade version (such as Ace randomly changing into Dexter and back, instead of "energizing" back into Ace) was printed in 2003 by Crossgen Publishing.
In the December 2003 issues of PSW (PlayStation World) and XBW (Xbox World), a free disk was given away with the magazine featuring Space Ace on one side (accompanied by trailers for similar games), and trailers for upcoming games on the other.
In May 2009 the game was made available on iOS.
In October 2010 Space Ace appeared on Wii as part of the Dragon's Lair Trilogy, which also features Dragon's Lair and Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp. It was later released as DSiWare in North America on December 6, 2010 and in the PAL region on December 31, 2010.
On February 17, 2011, it was confirmed by Paul Gold of Digital Leisure Inc., that a port was going to be released for the PlayStation 3, via the PlayStation Network (PSN), like they had done for the Dragon's Lair video game. It was released to the PSN the week of February 22, 2011.
In August 2013 the game was made available through Steam.
The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly gave the CD-i version a 7.75 out of 10. They described it as a "pixel perfect" conversion of the arcade game, though they criticized that the game lacks replay value.
GamePro panned the SNES version, commenting that "The awkward controls (you fall off ledges for no reason at all) and pixelated graphics (the cut scenes, which are meant to be humorous, are just hideous) combine for one of the most unplayable video games in recent memory." They recommended that fans of the arcade game hold out for the Sega CD version instead.
Reviewing the Sega CD version, GamePro remarked that the game unfortunately highlights the color bleeding of the Sega CD, but praised the story, voicing, and music, and concluded "Space Ace is great for animation buffs or gamers who enjoyed Dragon's Lair." A reviewer for Next Generation gave the Sega CD version two out of five stars. He decried the game's story as "juvenile" and the gameplay as overly limited: "The only way to beat any of the game's 13 stages is to play through it over and over until your reactions are automatic. You could surely train a monkey to do the same thing."
A reviewer for Next Generation gave the PC version two out of five stars, commenting that "Don Bluth's LaserDisc classic remains an entertaining cartoon attached to the antithesis of interactivity. ... Space Ace does manage to come out looking and sounding almost exactly like the original arcade adventure, but in the end, that's not necessarily a good thing."
In popular culture
A short-lived cartoon series based on Space Ace was produced in 1984 as part of the Saturday Supercade cartoon block (which was composed of cartoon shorts based on current video games) with Space Ace voiced by Jim Piper, Dexter voiced by Sparky Marcus, Kimberly voiced by Nancy Cartwright, and Commander Borf voiced by Arthur Burghardt. Twelve Space Ace episodes were produced. The episodes were once shown on Cartoon Network and are still sometimes shown as filler in Boomerang's Boomeraction block.
Samurai Jack references Space Ace and the other Don Bluth-animated arcade game, Dragon's Lair, in an episode "Jack and the Farting Dragon" where Samurai Jack asks which path to take to reach a dragon's lair, he is told the left; when he asks what the right path leads to, Jack is told, "Space Ace."
The podcast Rabbits references Space Ace as a plot point, along with several other games of the same era.
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