Sometimes an excellent operating system can be made even better
Space Ace HD
- Incredible remastered and restored visuals, 5.1 Dolby Digital sound, animation is often hilarious
- It's not really a 'game' in the modern sense of the word
Space Ace has never looked or sounded as good as it does in this latest HD outing. There's plenty of fun to be had if you dug Dragon's Lair back in the day, but the Naughties crowd are unlikely to 'get' it.
It's altogether likely that you've never heard of Space Ace. Originally released in 1984 by Don Bluth Studios, it was an unofficial follow-up to the hugely popular laserdisc arcade game Dragon's Lair ...and regrettably, it has forever lived in its big brother's shadow. While Dirk the Daring (the hero in Dragon's Lair) went on to star in an endless stream of remakes and spin-offs, the titular Ace was left with just one forgettable sequel (a much-maligned effort that only appeared on home formats).
Although both games were released within a year of each other, it would seem that the novelty of Disney-style animation had already worn off. Criticisms which had been overlooked in Dragon's Lair - such as the trial-and-error gameplay and limited controls - were openly derided in Space Ace, despite being identical in nature. And so it was that while one franchise went from strength-to-strength, the other slid into video game obscurity. (There's probably an analogy to be made here about how Lord of the Rings (Dragon's Lair) is better than Star Wars (Space Ace), but we'll leave that to the uber dorks.)
It's a shame really, because Space Ace remains one of the best laserdisc games in the Don Bluth canon, with a colourful sci-fi pastiche that echoes the tongue-and-cheek fantasy elements found in its famous predecessor. It also contains a lot more depth; with three separate skill settings, branching paths through levels and the optional ability to transform your character from zero to hero. In our humble opinion, the game is every bit as good as 'you-know-what', and loads better than the assorted Dragon's Lair sequels. We were therefore pleasantly surprised to find Space Ace HD in our mailbox. With any luck, we're about to witness one of the most belated comebacks in history...
Digital Leisure, the team behind the recent HD conversion of Dragon's Lair, has lavished Space Ace with the same adoring treatment; delivering a restored PC transfer from the original film master with remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital surround sound. Needless to say, this is the best that Space Ace has ever looked or sounded; with the sharpest and most vibrantly coloured images imaginable. (A version for BluRay and HD DVD players is scheduled for release in early 2008.)
Players take on the role of Ace, a blonde Buck Rogers-style action hero with more courage than sense. In a neat twist, the formerly beefy star spends much of the game in a weedy, nerd-like state; thanks to the evil actions of Commander Borf and his manhood-robbing 'Infanto Ray'. Like any great B-grade space opera, the game is filled-to-the-gills with crazy set-pieces and memorable characters. Particular standouts are the aforementioned Borf (who looks like the blue Genie from Aladdin on steroids) and Kimberly (Ace's disturbingly appealing girlfriend.)
So how does Space Ace play in today's day and age? Truth be told, unless you were a fan of laserdisc games back in the 80s, there's a good chance you won't understand what all the fuss is about. As mentioned above, the game relies on an incredibly simple trial-and-error approach, with no control scheme to speak of. For those reared on the complexities of modern shooters, the lack of user freedom will come as a rude awakening. It's basically an 'interactive' cartoon that requires random directional prompts to progress the story. However, the sheer quality of the animation - along with the amusing ways in which Ace can die - ensures that there is still plenty of fun to be had, even if you're a preteen neo-gamer (get off our lawn).
While the extra features are a bit thin on the ground, you do get the option to watch the game being played through from start to finish; with or without the death scenes. This ensures that everyone, including people with rubbish reflexes, will get to see Ace win the day.
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