Be valiant, space warrior, the fate of Earth is in your hands! Released back in 1984, Space Ace is a laserdisc game from legendary, and ex-Disney animator Don Bluth (American Tail, All Dogs got to heaven, Sword in the stone). A sequel of sorts to Dragon’s Lair (also a laserdisc game) you played as Dexter, or Ace as he likes to be known. A hapless hero on a quest to save his girlfriend Kimberley from the evil clutches of Borf, a muscular blue alien intent on conquering earth. Unfortunately for Ace, Borf has zapped him with his Infanto Ray, which has transformed him from a muscular man to a pre-pubescent boy.
In 1984 this game, and Dragon’s Lair before it, really stood out as unique. No game had ever looked this good, with the best graphics before it being from the likes of the vector based Star Wars or marble madness. Of course, this game cheated in that it isn’t realtime graphics, but instead pre-animated video clips, which play according to correct button or joystick presses of the player. Still, it offered something new to arcades, and an experience at the time of being in the movie/cartoon itself, something that games still strive to do, and fail at, even today.
Since the arcade original, it has appeared on many devices including re-masterd DVD and Blu-ray editions, playable using your remote control. Now it’s come to iPhone, and the important question is how does it play?
On selecting play you are given three difficulty options: Cadet, Captain and Ace. These are basically the same, with you watching the cartoon play out and hit the correct buttons at the right time for the game to continue forward. Hit the wrong button or react too slowly and you are presented with a death sequence, or occasionally put on a slightly different path. For example you have the ability to energise Dexter and turn him into Ace, selecting to do so activates bonus scenes with Ace shooting his laser.
The differences are in that Cadet gives you added visual hints on which way or when to hit the appropriate action or direction keys by lighting those keys up. If you select Captain or ACE you must rely solely on the original flashes within the scenes themselves and memorise the sequences to succeed. From the option screen you are given two control layouts, either with the arrow keys around the edge of the screen, or with them in a d-pad arrangement in the bottom corner, both options have an action button too.
Both control options are not ideal and here’s why. When playing the game in either mode, it is hard to be able to enjoy the scenes playing in front of you, because your eyes are too busy looking for the button you must hit first. In Cadet you are simply looking for the button that lights up, and in the harder modes the keys are so small you must check back continuously to check where the buttons are in case you miss them. This is a problem with the touch screen as a whole, because if the controls were tactile you could simply rest your fingers on them, safe in the knowledge that you would hit them every time without looking. But on the touch screen it’s too easy to just miss the button if you are not looking exactly where you are pressing. I think the developers of this port should have made much larger areas for the button presses, for example having the entire right part of the screen for the right button and centre of the screen for action…etc. Too many times during the game I would hit the action button with my thumb, only for the game not to register because of the small surface area to hit.
The game is also incredibly short. Once you have mastered the button presses you can get to the end in about 10 minutes. Sure you won’t do this on your first outing (unless you choose the unlimited lives option from the settings menu), but even then you may give up due to sheer repetitiveness, or pulling your hair out when just at the end of a scene, you miss that final button press.
Presentation & Graphics
It’s a hard one to rate. On the one hand it features timeless animation from Don Bluth. But on the other, it’s kinda cheating. A nice touch from the main menu is being able to watch the original Attract Mode from the Arcade.
Great score and voice work, but there is some noticeable compression in some scenes.
It’s a reaction/memory game, plain and simple. Hit left, hit right, hit action (not necessarily in that order)… that’s it.
Very short, and very repetitive. While there is the Ace mode to master, the actual gameplay is the same. Get used to seeing the same scene again, and again… and again.
Unless you are a die hard fan. I really can’t recommend this game. While it may be the cheapest version out there, it’s not the best, with the controls letting the side down in a big way. It’s fine as a bit of nostalgia, or as a collectors item. But if you really want to enjoy the game and the fantastic animation, then you’ll want to play it with real buttons so you can actually watch it, as you play. Space Ace is available now for $4.99