Don Bluth Presents Space Ace HD

Format: PC (DVD Rom)
Digital Leisure

6 24719 99104 8
Age Restrictions: E
09 November 2007

The evil commander Borf has kidnapped Ace's girlfriend, the beautiful Kimberly, and is plotting to enslave the Earth using his dreaded Infanto Ray, a weapon that changes everyone it blasts into helpless babies. Armed with only a laser gun, Ace must find and destroy the Infanto Ray, rescue Kimberly and save the Earth. All in a day's work for a superhero, right...?

Space Ace originally began life as a laserdisc arcade video game in 1984. It was released shortly after the successful, and more famous, Dragon's Lair and was another impressive looking game from ex-Disney animator Don Bluth - who incidentally also provides the voice of the villain Borf.

In Space Ace you play the heroic Ace who must stop the evil Commander Borf from taking over the Earth. Borf plans to reduce all of humankind to infants and take over the planet. Only two people have the courage and strength to stop Borf and save Earth: the beautiful Kimberly and the heroic Ace. But as they approach Borf's stronghold, Ace is hit by the Infanto Ray, changing him into a child, and Kimberly is kidnapped by the evil madman. Of course, you don't know any of this while playing the game. As far as you know Kimberly accidentally falls into Borf's hideout and then he attacks you. It's only once the game has been completed that you learn about the Infanto Ray - the last level includes an Infanto Ray section.

Like Dragon's Lair, Space Ace has a predefined animated story that played out correctly if the player pushed the joystick in the right direction, or pressed the fire button at the correct time. On screen help is given mere seconds before you are required to perform a certain action. Hit the right button and the action continued. Make a mistake and you died.

More trial and error than actual gaming skill is required to sail through the levels successfully. Unlike Dragon's Lair, which I remember playing in the arcades (badly, I might add) I never saw Space Ace when it was originally released. This is probably a good thing, as I still remember the wonderment and disappointment I felt playing Dragon's Lair: "Wow! The graphics are amazing! How much to play? A pound!!!??? Okay here goes!" Thirty seconds later. "What's going on? Game over?! What?! I didn't do anything?" And so another pound was sunk into the machine. You have to remember that this was in the days when the average machine was 10p a go, so £1 (or it may have been 50p, I can't really remember - it was a lot more than the average game though, I remember that) was a lot to drop for 10 seconds of an interactive cartoon. But it was worth every minute.

So, I was really looking forward to getting my first look at Space Ace. This PC DVD ROM represents the first ever High Definition film transfer of the original animation. So, for the first time ever you can experience the stunning visuals of Space Ace in full High Definition video. And it looks pretty impressive.

Okay, there are a few problems. Like old Scooby-Doo cartoons, the colour occasionally changes between the scene links, and the screen moves slightly. But that, I assume, is more to do with the original material than the transfer. The game has also been given a nice new 5.1 surround sound soundtrack (assuming you have a 5.1 surround sound audio card).

Also, relistening to the same small segments of the game time and time again becomes very tiresome very quickly. It's not always obvious what you are supposed to do and so trial and error is the main way people will progress. And this gets annoying very quickly. If you pay close attention to the screen you can see which button you supposed to press. But occasionally it's not overly clear - for example an area in the top left of the screen may flash, but it's not clear if you are supposed to press up or left.

If you get completely stuck, or bored of constantly dying, you can watch the finished movie so you can see how everything is supposed to turn out. You can watch it with, or without the numerous death sequences (which, if you opt to watch, are tagged onto the end of each level).

One aspect of the game that is interesting, is that you can either hit the space bar to transform back into the brave hero of the game at key moments, or you can ignore that and play the whole game as the weedy, scared Dexter. Either way you can still finish the game. As the strong Ace, the game is slightly longer and you have more obstacles, but this means more points. As Dexter the levels are easier, but you miss out on a lot of bonus points.

Another interesting addition is that the levels flip left and right each time you insert the disc, so if you master the game and then switch off, the next time you load it up things (left and right anyway) are reversed.

If you aren't old enough to remember these games in the arcades, I doubt whether you'll enjoy them on your home computer. This is more a nostalgia trip for those who loved them back in the '80s. This game will provide plenty of enjoyment for an afternoon, but that's about all you'll get out of it.

Nick Smithson