I know that it’s possible to make games with video disc systems. But based on the number of these titles we see on PC or console these days there are better ways to make games. Yet back in 1983 they’d try anything to forestall an impending crash in arcade takings, and videodiscs was one of those experiments.
So now Blu-ray gets the laserdisc treatment, with the conversion of the Don Bluth arcade title Space Ace. If you weren’t born in the 70s or earlier, then you can be forgiven for having missed this classic arcade game. It’s a sequel to the breakthrough laserdisc title Dragon’s Lair, released some four months afterwards.
In this one you get to play Dexter, determined to get his girlfriend back from the evil Commander Borf. It’s all gorgeously hand animated by Bluth Studios, even if the amount of control you actually have is limited. If you’ve ever played a laserdisc title it’s not exactly interactive, as it uses the scene branching method to advance the action. You either make the right move progressing to the next level, or you do the wrong thing and you get to see Dexter die in an unfortunate fashion.
So what does the Blu-ray disc bring to this ancient title? One plus point is that the animation is actually presented at higher quality than it’s ever been seen at before. The original film stock source has been used to remaster the video in 1080p, compared with the lower-quality-than-DVD laserdisc format original. If you’re wondering about the aspect ratio, they’ve chosen to present it in both cropped widescreen and the arcade 1.33 ratio, an improvement on the Dragon’s Lair disc. They’ve also reworked the sound into a 5.1 mix, from what was just stereo, so it’s not like they just threw this together.
But that content must only take about 2% of the 25GB storage space, so they’ve thrown on plenty of goodies to make this a more interesting disc for those interested in animation and gaming history. Those include interviews with the creators, a picture-in-picture commentary with Don Bluth, Rick Dyer, and Gary Goldberg. They’ve also created a ‘progress reel’, where they explain the incarnations Space Ace has been through, and how much better this one is than any that’s been before.
Great, but is this really worth the hard currency? Sadly I’m going to say ‘no’. This is a short and difficult game that was designed to illicit coins from adolescents, and I defy most people to spend more than 20 minutes on it before selecting the option to just watch the whole exercise like a movie (which thankfully you can now). I lasted 10 minutes, but I’d played the frustrating original and wanted immediate gratification.
While Space Ace is a wonderful example of the innovation that went into second generation arcade systems, it doesn’t really stand up to the levels of interaction and playability we expect these days. It looks and sounds impressive, but playability is impacted by how rubbery the keys on your Blu-ray player are, a device that wasn’t designed to be used for this purpose.
Maybe if they bundled Dragon’s Lair, Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp then this might be worth a purchase, but on its own this isn’t great value for money.Space Ace is from a galaxy far, far away, and perhaps it needed to stay there.