Thursday, July 16, 2009

Space Ace (1984)

Space Ace: defender of justice, truth, and the planet Earth.

Space Ace was Don Bluth's 1984 follow up to Dragon's Lair, and although the gameplay fundamentals remained the same (timed joystick and button presses), Space Ace improved on it's predecessor in almost every way.

You play Ace, a macho star-pilot who gets zapped by alien Borf's new invention, the "Infanto Ray", a laser gun that reverses the aging process and instantly transforms whatever it hits into a baby.

Apparently Ace only gets winged, however, because instead of turning into a gurgling baby, he merely reverts back to the gangly 98-pound weakling he must have been before he hit puberty and changed his name from Dexter (and certainly before he met his current babe girlfriend, Kimberly).

Borf kidnaps "Kimmy" in his spaceship, and the adventure begins.

So aside from the obvious change in genre, what set Space Ace apart from Dragon's Lair? First off, the pace was much quicker, with many more decision points. Compared to the fast and frenetic action of Space Ace, Dragon's Lair just seemed to crawl.

Space Ace also came much closer to realizing the concept of an interactive movie by offering levels in a linear progression. In Dragon's Lair, you started at the front of the castle and ended in the dragon's den, but in between were a series of self-contained levels that appeared in more-or-less random order.

Space Ace levels unfolded like scenes from a movie, always occurring in the same order as you pursued Borf across alien worlds and through space, ultimately intercepting him at his headquarters to rescue Kimberly. (This had the added benefit of making Space Ace a little bit easier to master, since you were not constantly getting different levels thrown at you each time you died).

And Space Ace offered a new innovation--true branching. First, you had the option of selecting one of three difficulty levels (Cadet, for beginners, or for the daring, Captain or Space Ace, which activated additional levels of play).

Then, there were points during actual gameplay where the player could choose from more than one possible path (sometimes triggering variant action). In this branching space-bound obstacle course, for example, both the upper and lower paths are valid, and return slightly differing play.

But perhaps the most unique example of the new branching capability was the "energizer" gimmick. About once per level, a sensor on Dexter's wrist flashes, indicating an opportunity to briefly transform back to the muscular Ace.

Except for the final level, a complicated hand-to-hand battle with Borf, energizing is always optional. But if you do choose to energize by hitting the button, Dexter temporarily powers-up into his former bulked-up self and participates in an alternate level of play that you would have otherwise missed.

These transformations between personas often take on a comical tone. In one of my favorite levels, Dexter finds himself at the controls of a runaway motorbike, hanging on for dear life.

But after energizing into Ace, he coolly sweet-talks Kimmy while nonchalantly blasting aliens over his shoulder (the user is required to actually press the laser button, however!)

In another memorable level, Ace battles his "dark side", represented by a giant gray-scale version of himself, whom you defeat by baiting into shooting itself to pieces while scaling his enormous body, Shadow-of-the-Colossus style, until all that's left is his grim grinning head!

After some trial-and-error and memorization, and if your timing is precise, you'll end up shooting Borf with his own weapon, transforming him into a baby. It's implied that Ace and Kim will raise him as their own. Isn't he adorable?


Is it me, or does Borf bear a striking resemblance to the genie from Disney's Aladdin (1992)?

I'd be tempted to accuse Disney of ripping off the design...except they both look like they descended from this older Disney genie depicted in Our Friend The Atom (1957).

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