Review: Space Ace Blu-ray

SpaceAce BluRay.jpgDragon’s Lair came out the year of my birth – 1983 – and was at the height of its popularity during my youth, and as such it was one of the first arcade games I fondly remember playing. Actually, to be honest, I spent more time watching others play it because it was just too damn difficult and I didn’t have enough quarters to continuously pump into it.

Almost immediately after Dragon’s Lair hit, Space Ace, another Don Bluth-animated arcade game, came along, but for one reason or another it just never caught on to nearly the same extent. So much so that none of the arcades in my area ever even brought it in, and thusly I’d never been able to play it. Thanks to Digital Leisure’s continued efforts to keep these old classics from dying out, however, I’ve finally been able to play Space Ace after all these years — on Blu-ray sporting gloriously restored High Definition visuals at that – and it doesn’t disappoint one bit.

As you’re reading this, Space Ace on Blu-ray should be hitting retail shelves, or at least shipping out. I’ve been enjoying an early review copy here for the past week or so and can tell you without equivocation that it’s absolutely fantastic!

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Space Ace’s Blu-ray debut follows up on last year’s excellent Dragon’s Lair remastering on Sony’s triumphant new HD disc format (read my DL Blu-ray review here), and overall the material on display is very similar, from the interesting developer interviews and picture-in-picture commentary to the progression reel video that shows how the visual quality has improved over the years and numerous platforms it’s appeared on. And boy have they even improved. Don Bluth’s impeccable animations are truly a sight to behold in their newly HD-remastered form. The crisp video quality, the endearing art, the vibrant colors. Man, it’s all so beautiful.

The game itself is also in the same mold of Dragon’s Lair – it’s basically an interactive movie in which you press the appropriate direction or action button on your remote with the proper timing in order to guide the protagonist past on-screen hazards and continue to the next scene — only in Space Ace Dirk is replaced by the handsomely chiseled hero Ace (and his youthful and quite dorky alter-ego Dexter), Princess Daphne is replaced as the damsel in distress by redhead hottie Kimberly, the dragon Singe gives way to Borf as one of the best villain’s in gaming history, and the fantasy setting is replaced by a lighthearted sci-fi motif.

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Compared to Dragon’s Lair, though, I must say that Space Ace does have a more pronounced game-like feel to it. The scenes flow together much smoother, the scenes are more complex and the pacing is infinitely quicker. Those elements combined with a full-length musical score give Space Ace a far greater sense of continuity and cohesion.

However, the rapid-fire pacing in particular, coupled with the typical trial-and-error style of this genre, does ratchet up the difficulty to new heights. Yep, that’s right, folks. Space Ace is MUCH harder than Dragon’s Lair. So much so that Rick Dyer even admits in the commentary that the increased difficulty and pacing is probably what led to Space Ace’s lack of comparative success when it originally came out. Fortunately, this Blu-ray version does at least offer options to ease the pain a bit. There are three difficulty settings and an option to turn on visual move indicators that help out by causing elements in a scene to blink as a hint as to what button you need to press. If all else fails and you give up on completing the story on your own abilities, you can always elect to wimp out and watch the animation like a movie.

And that’s ultimately what makes Space Ace so great. If you want to endure the hardships of beating the game on your own – like a true hardcore gamer — you’ll come out in the end with a sense of pride and satisfaction knowing you just finished what has to be one of the hardest games ever created. But at the same time, you can skip the aggravations, relax and simply treat the disc as a movie. It works both ways. Whether you choose to interact or watch, Space Ace is yet another spectacular Blu-ray showcase from Digital Leisure.

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Pros:
+ HD-remastered animations are absolutely gorgeous
+ Excellent musical score
+ Smoother scene transitions and an overall greater sense of continuity
+ Loaded with fantastic bonus features, including brief playable demo scenes from Dragon’s Lair and the upcoming BD version of Dragon’s Lair II (which I wasn’t able to squeeze into the review text but deserved mention)

Cons:
– Rapid pacing and high difficulty can be excruciatingly frustrating

Game Info:
Platform: Blu-ray/PS3
Publisher: Digital Leisure
Developer: Digital Leisure
Release Date: 4/8/08
Genre: Interactive Animation
Players: 1

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!