I woke up this morning with an inexplicable desire to play Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp. Since I lost my CD copy of the Don Bluth laserdisc trilogy, however, and since I actually played Space Ace, the previous game in that trilogy quite a bit more, I’m here to talk about it instead.
If you were around in the 80’s for Dragon’s Lair, you’re probably also aware of Space Ace: gorgeous, film-quality animation plays from a laserdisc inside an arcade cabinet while the player moves the joystick or presses a fire button in order to make the onscreen character perform the correct actions and continue the story.
Playing with the line between film and videogame even more than, say, Metal Gear Solid 4, Space Ace is a beautifully animated, reflex-driven gem from the 1980’s.
Hit the jump for more.
Ace, a musclebound space pirate (or soldier, or something) is on a quest to stop the evil Borf from taking over the galaxy. Borf kidnaps Ace’s girlfriend, Kimberly, and hits Ace with the Infanto Ray.
This oddly-named weapon transforms the hunky Ace into Dexter, a skinny, nerdy teenager with a goddamn hilarious voice and basically no combat ability whatsoever (hence all the dodging and running and crap these games tended to require).
As Dexter chases after Kimberly, he’ll occasionally be able to turn back into Ace for a short amount of time. Though your abilities don’t really change that much, Ace’s segments tend to focus much more on combat than fleeing. After you’ve spent twenty minutes running from every single alien and robot as Dexter, it’s indescribably satisfying to blast everything you see for a short amount of time.
Furthermore, changing into Ace was often optional: whenever Dexter’s watch told him it was time to energize (don’t ask me why), you could simply not press the fire button and Dexter would continue along a totally different path. It’s not exactly Grand Theft Auto, but these little hints of nonlinearity made Space Ace even more lovable than its predecessor.
That’s about as indepth as the game gets, given that it is a laserdisc title. You still only have five inputs — the four joystick directions, and the fire key. What’s interesting, however, is how Space Ace‘s gameplay fits within the Bluth trilogy, bridging the gap between Dragon’s Lair and Dragon’s Lair II: Time Warp.
In the first Dragon’s Lair, the player is very rarely given any flashing onscreen clues as to where to go. If you’re supposed to go left, you’ll see a door open, but more often than not the door won’t be accompanied by a big, bright “HEY PRESS THE JOYSTICK IN THIS DIRECTION” flash of light which guides the player through literally every single joystick or button press in the much more user-friendly Dragon’s Lair II.
Space Ace splits the difference between the two games: the flashing cues aren’t present for every moment of gameplay, but they’re far more frequent than what you’d find in the first Dragon’s Lair. Since the game is probably the hardest in the trilogy (the last boss fight is tricky as hell, but incredibly satisfying if you do it right), the addition of more flashy-thingies was appreciated.
Gameplay-wise, I still prefer Dragon’s Lair II — call me a coward, but I like being told where and when to go — but Space Ace remains my favorite of the trilogy simply because of its goofy Buck Rogers aesthetic and great sense of humor (Kimberly’s repeated sing-songy delivery of “Get me out of heeeeere!” and Dexter’s badass-nerdy “A-ha, Borf is here!” still make me laugh).
Why you’re probably not playing it:
It’s a Laserdisc game. People don’t really play Laserdisc games anymore, and even if they do, the phrase itself brings to mind one game, and one game only: Dragon’s Lair. Dragon’s Lair received a sequel and several remakes; Space Ace only had a godawful SNES port.
Space Ace is the sadly neglected child of the Don Bluth laserdisc game trilogy, which is a real shame considering what a great sense of humor it had, and how efficiently it bridged the gameplay gap between the two Dragon’s Lair games.
Thankfully, it’s now really easy to get all three games of the Bluth trilogy: you can get them for PC or DVD for very reasonable prices (often less than five bucks for each game), and both Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace are currently available on Blu Ray with a bunch of special features and stuff (Dragon’s Lair II is forthcoming, probably).
Either way, there’s a myriad of ways to get your hands on Space Ace. Whether you played the games in the 80’s and wanna check out a digitially remastered version of this semi-obscure classic, or if you’re totally new to the whole idea of Laserdisc games and just want to see how they could possibly function, then it’s definitely worth checking one or all of these games out.
Also, the entire game lasts less than ten minutes if you beat it without dying. You won’t beat it without dying, because a lot of it requires absurdly fast reflexes mixed with pattern memorization, but I just thought that was worth mentioning. I would have assumed the total running time of the complete game would have been at least a half hour, but I was dead wrong. You can see a full, no-death playthrough of the game below.
On an unrelated note
I went to the Video Games Live concert in Arizona, and after playing some music from all three Bluth Laserdisc games, Tommy Tallarico actually brought Don Bluth out onto the stage to talk about the Laserdisc games, the first of which being one of only three videogames on permanent displayin the Smithsonian.
What followed was one of the most awesome (because I was staring at Don motherfucking Bluth and had not expected to) and depressing (because of what he said) things I’ve ever seen.
Bluth said that though he had a lot of creative control over his actual movies (An American Tail, The Secret of NIMH), he didn’t really exert any control over their team for the videogames. They pretty much turned their teams loose and let them do whatever they wanted; despite the fact that Bluth and Dyer got a lot of the credit, they admitted most of it should have gone to their team.
He then said something like “I’ve worked in animation for forty years, and yet the only thing anyone’s gonna remember about me are those games.” He said it with a smile, but considering it was less than a decade ago that Titan A.E. pretty much bankrupted Fox Animation studios, I got the impression that he was legitimately kind of bummed out that the stuff he worked hardest on was getting the least attention.