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Space Ace Blu-ray Disc Review

There was a day not too long ago when Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace were the epitome of videogame quality, as people were fascinated by cartoons that they “played” by pressing their joystick in a certain direction to guide each cartoon’s trusty hero through a series of timed events and obstacles. Videogames have come a long way since then, but Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace still maintain a sizeable following, if for no other reason than nostalgia is a tough thing to undo.

To tap into this following, Dragon’s Lair released on Blu-ray Disc late last year, and Space Ace has recently released in its wake, a logical timing move considering Space Ace followed Dragon’s Lair in the arcades as well. Although Space Ace didn’t do as well commercially as its progenitor, it still has a bit of that nostalgic aura. Unfortunately, the very things that foiled Space Ace’s arcade success will likely foil its success as a Blu-ray “game” as well, as Space Ace makes for a better Blu-ray movie experience than it does a playable cartoon.

The game component has Blu-ray owners pressing the directional pad on their PS3 or the arrow buttons on their Blu-ray player’s controller to move the on-screen character to the “safe” area on the screen. The goal is to avoid obstacles like falling rocks, laser beams, spikes, missiles, etc. However, the action is insanely fast, literally to the point that the “game” is almost unplayable in spots. The creators bemoan this very fact during their commentary track and interview, which makes it all the more odd to see their lack of timing “tweaks” for the Blu-ray release. After all, if the creators themselves say the game’s speed led to its downfall in the arcades, what makes them think the speed will be any more welcome on Blu-ray?

Difficulty aside, it’s not the challenge of Space Ace that frustrates as much as it’s the incredibly short and rapid-fire presentation of all the failure animations, which after seven or more failures will make you want to punch your HDTV through the wall.

Fortunately, the Watch bonus feature lets you watch all 13 sequences in the “game” like a movie, without forcing you to play through them as you did in the arcade. It’s very chopped up and mashed together though, and it even includes the various “failure” animation sequences for each mission, which doesn’t exactly make for a very smooth movie-watching experience.

One redeeming quality of Space Ace on Blu-ray is the Video Commentary (24:45), is a picture-in-picture video feature that shows the game/movie in the background while a thumbnail frame with Don Bluth, Rick Dyer and Gary Goldman shows the men as they talk through the film. These three gentlemen start off well, providing context about their overall goal, the character voices and animation style, but devolve quickly into “wow, doesn’t this look great?” kinds of comments. The comments quickly recover to address big-picture issues and aspects of production, including how the speed of the on-screen action affected the playabilty and ultimately Space Ace’s unexpectedly low sales. Again, if they knew this going in, why didn’t they adjust it for the Blu-ray release? There’s some nice insight into the character models and archetypes, but on the whole this feature feels a little too off-the-cuff and unrehearsed to make it really compelling.

Creator Interviews (5:54), on the other hand, is a full one-take interview with Bluth, Dyer and Goldman that feels like it should’ve been the type of content included in the video commentary. I suppose with the game/movie only being 24 minutes long, there’s only so much information that can be included in the commentary track, but the production insights and comments in this five-minute interview are so interesting that you’ll ultimately feel ripped-off by the 24-minute video commentary’s relative lack of substance.

For those who think Space Ace looks grainy on Blu-ray, look no further than the Progression Reel (2:03) to see just how much work has gone into remastering it for its BD release. Space Ace has changed a lot through the years based on the format du jour, from Laserdisc and Amiga to CD-ROM to now Blu-ray Disc. Each scene shown in this reel is displayed in its old-school format, with the current 1080p HD video on the right-hand side and the archival footage on the other. The 1080p video blows everything else out of the water, but the comparison really show how far ahead of its time the Laserdisc truly was in terms of video presentation.

The last bonus feature, Previews, isn’t just for Space Ace, although the previews are included for Space Ace as well as Dragon’s Lair and Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp. On the contrary, this bonus feature also includes two playable demos for Dragon’s Lair and Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp, with one level contained in each.

But even so, Space Ace on Blu-ray Disc simply can’t overcome its original fatal flaw: speed. As a cartoon and technical achievement, Space Ace delivers, but as an interactive game that’s nearly unplayable, Space Ace should be launched far away from the HDTV of anyone who doesn’t consider themselves the original arcade game’s most hardcore fan.

Score: 4

— Jonas Allen

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