Blu-ray Review: Space Ace

March 22, 2008

Back in summer of 1983 I had a life changing event, well I had lots of life changing events in the eighties but this particular one was walking past a Dragon’s Lair machine in my local arcade, needless to say I did a double take. Dragon’s Lair looked like something from another world compared to all the other consoles surrounding it, at the time I didn’t realize the game ran on laser discs and didn’t care much either, all I knew was I was “playing” a cartoon, rather it was playing me. I must have dropped enough quarters into that machine to buy one outright.

Flash forward a year later the follow-up to Dragon’s Lair: ‘Space Ace’ was released and while it was certainly a success, In some ways the magic of seeing animation inside an arcade cabinet was strangely, already old-hat. It was almost as if Don Bluth and the rest of the team had done such a good job with Lair that its follow-up seemed somehow inferior. Sure Space Ace was impressive, and yes the “graphics” looked amazing but by now the limited left, left, wait, wait some more, up, left, wait some more routine was getting tiresome. That said, never under estimate the power of nostalgia.

Late last week the folks at Digital Leisure were kind enough to send over an early review copy of ‘Space Ace’ on Blu-ray and I have to say, sometimes it’s nice to reminisce and re-visit something that made a huge impact on you early in life. The Blu-ray versions of ‘Dragon’s Lair’ and ‘Space Ace’ are faithful adaptations of original arcade versions but with the added benefit of recent digital video remastering, the colors look noticeably improved over recent DVD versions.

Cutting to the chase, I popped the disc into the PS3 and gave it a go on the default settings, nope my reflexes haven’t improved one bit since I was 14 it would appear. I moved back to the root menu and selected difficulty cadet, unlimited lives, and the visual move guide to on. Even with all those “cheats” on I couldn’t manage to get past the first level, yeah pretty embarrassing. It didn’t take long to remember shoving quarter after quarter into those machines in hopes of seeing the next piece of the story. Luckily this time I won’t need a pocket full of quarters.

After 20 minutes or so I finally made it through the first level and the beginning of level 2 felt like I was stepping back in time. I clearly remember the “I’ll save you Kimmie!” passage from the demo loop in the arcades, it was really like stepping back in time just for a second. Moving on through the twists and turns of Level 2, I was reminded of what made Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace so much fun in the first place. It was the “woo hoo” feeling of getting through a particularly difficult section and the “Oh no!” anguish of botching it seconds later while being closer than ever to that “next level”.

Playing on the rest of that first night and for several more hours the following evening I found the frustration at not being able to blast through the game subsiding, and just getting back into that very same discovery mode I found myself in 24 years ago. If nothing else, the reconnecting with a long lost friend aspect of all this was well worth my time. That’s not to say all was well in Space Ace land, I found the controls somewhat inconsistent and yes the load times are still a little annoying but if I’m not mistaken they’re still faster than the arcade versions.

Extras: The disc supplemental materials were as entertaining as one could expect given the nature of the material. It was fun to watch the entire animation sequence without having to worry about Ace getting wacked. Honestly looking back through all this, I don’t know how my brain ever remembered the move sequences in the first place; it all seems so foreign now.

I caught some funny dialog this go round I never noticed before, including: “later, space invaders” a nod or knock to one of the titans of the industry. Some of the things l gleaned from the commentary was the fact that the production of Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace overlapped. With production of Space Ace already underway when the final touches to Dragon’s Lair were taking place, they clearly knew the iron was hot.

There were the usual assortment of Interviews with Don Bluth (the animator) and crew going through each element from voicing to the score and the animation in detail. It turns out that they planned on a Space Ace 2 but the team ran into technical difficulties when the group that handled their Laserdisc interfaces went out of business.

The progression reel was an eye opener. This section shows side by side video comparing the original arcade laserdiscs to the HD version. The restoration really paid off here, there was a remarkable difference in clarity and resolution. Another nice addition was the playable levels and previews of Dragon’s Lair one and two in the previews section.

Summary: For fans of the original Dragon’s Lair and obviously Space Ace, this disc is well worth the price of admission. I’m not 100% sure the uninitiated would get it however. On the other hand the concept of playing games in a party atmosphere is growing in popularity (thanks to the Wii) and both Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace would fit right into that category. One last thing, I’ll save you Kimmie!

Posted by Bryan Greenway | | Filed Under Blu-ray


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