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Space Ace - DSiWare Review

Game Info
Space Ace

DSiWare | Digital Leisure | 1 Player | Out Now (North America) | 500 Nintendo Points
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17th December 2010; By KnucklesSonic8

After I fell in love with the DSiWare release of Dragon's Lair, I was looking forward to possibly seeing Space Ace come to the service. And lo and behold, Space Ace did end up making an appearance not too many days ago. I wasn't expecting Space Ace to be better than Dragon's Lair since that's such a classic, but I was hoping it would be just as fun to play. Relatively speaking, the effort put forth in bringing Space Ace over has disappointed me. And if you're like me and didn't experience the game before, there's a good possibility you won't want to have much to do with this after you play it.

    Space Ace plays much like Dragon's Lair where timing and reflexes are key to your success. However, Space Ace relies more on using flashes of light to give you a clue as to what you're required to do. As you play the game, a story will unfold in the form of an animation. The very first scene will show your partner, Kimberly, being kidnapped by the aliens. Your overall goal in the game is to not only to locate and save her, but to defeat Borf, your arch-nemesis, in a final showdown. The attraction video at the very beginning will help set the stage for what's to follow.

    Controls are straight-forward, with the D-Pad being used to initiate movements at the right time, and the A Button to fire your weapon. Typically, the direction where a flash of light appears can serve as an indication as to what button you need to press on the D-Pad. But in certain instances, the game will throw you off, for example a line leading off to the right would lead you to believe you need to press Right on the D-Pad, when in actuality you need to press Up. 

The interesting thing about Space Ace is the fact that there are multiple paths you can take to clear each scene. At specific times, the words "Energize" will appear on the screen where you're given the opportunity to transform from little Dexter to the valiant Ace. You can choose not to follow this path if you wish, leading to the same outcome by the end of it, but getting there through a different method.

    You can play on three difficulty settings: Cadet, Captain, and Ace. You'll notice a notable difference between them if you play one after the other. Ace has every single scene and move requirement that was part of the original animation, whereas you won't experience certain scenarios on the easiest difficulty. But if you're looking to get the full arcade experience, it's best to attempt the Ace difficulty at some point (after you've gotten used to everything of course). So that creates some replayability there (that is, if you actually enjoy the game). Either way, you'll observe that Space Ace is more challenging than Dragon's Lair was.

    Much of the game is deeply-rooted in the principle of trial-and-error, but whether or not you actually enjoy this method of playing will differ greatly between persons. Some will absolutely hate the structure, whereas others may be patient enough to keep trying again and again to see the ending. One thing's for sure: this style of gameplay doesn't work as well as it did in Dragon's Lair. Space Ace's animation is strung together like a linear story, while Dragon's Lair's scenes are portrayed as different rooms, leading to an overall climax. The principle is the same but the approach is slightly different, with Dragon's Lair ultimately winning out with a more user-friendly experience that runs at a better pace.

This title wasn't meant to compete with Dragon's Lair, or even to present itself as a follow-up to its storyline. Rather, Space Ace is just another one of Don Bluth's legendary animation-based titles. Back in the day, this game really was one-of-a-kind, for its totally unique gameplay and impressive animations. Nowadays, though, it seems that that lustre has worn off - increasingly so in the case of this DSiWare release. I mean, the gameplay itself doesn't feel revolutionary, and most may pass it off as being insufficiently lacking in depth. But for those who enjoyed Dragon's Lair, most likely you'll just accept this game for what it is and roll with it. 

    However, that's not the only "issue" some may have with the game. For one, the voice acting and dialogue is laughably poor in many areas. Case in point: Kimberly's extended cry for help in the second scene still rings in my head. Secondly, the transitions of the animations feel disjointed and rough in certain areas, not dissimilar from when a music CD skips a second of playback. But these issues don't carry as much weight in the long run once you realize that this handheld version of the game has been stricken with a more serious problem. 

    I'm sure bringing an arcade game over to DSiWare and trying to fit into the space limitations proved to be tough. But as you'll quickly discover, it seems like this proved too big of a challenge for Digital Leisure to handle with Space. The compression rate is absolutely terrible, and what's worse is that this interferes with your experience in certain areas. For example, in one scene, Ace and Kimberly are trying to escape an underwater cavern that's home to deadly eels. Unfortunately, I found it was hard to decipher what was going on at times. Since you need a lot of concentration to react quickly to flashes of light, this does get in the way of your reaction time when you're playing for the first time.

Even with these issues, I found Space Ace was an interesting experience. But it's more of a one-time thing. It's not as fun to play as Dragon's Lair was, and it doesn't work as well in terms of captivation factor. Once you've played it once, most won't see enough of a reason to play through it multiple times, and I can definitely say the overall quality is to blame for that. And so, to that end, this port speaks more to hardcore fans than first-time players, but even they will raise an eyebrow over how this port has been handled. 

    I thought Dragon's Lair was a great fit for DSiWare. It's a classic arcade experience that I urge everyone to try if they can. Although I came late to the party, I found it a lot of fun even in this day and age. Unfortunately, these same positive remarks can't be extended to Space Ace. It just doesn't work as well as Dragon's Lair did, especially in terms of appeal. If you really want to give Space Ace a shot, I recommend getting Dragon's Lair Trilogy for Wii instead. There's better value to be found there, plus the visuals are much crisper. It's true that the compression rate has ultimately taken a toll on the overall feel, but even still, Space Ace just isn't that much fun to play. For those reasons, I can't possibly recommend this disappointing release.

13/30 - Very Poor

Gameplay 7/10 - Similar in execution to Dragon's Lair with a slightly-different approach, branching pathways to follow thanks to the Energize feature
Presentation 3/10 - Hard to appreciate the animations in this form, compression rate really takes a toll on the overall feel, rough transitions of clips
Enjoyment 1/5 - Doesn't have the same sense of appeal or memorability as Dragon's Lair, shows its age, very challenging but not that much fun to play
Extra Content 2/5 - High scores aren't nearly as motivating as they were in Dragon's Lair, three difficulties with some notable differences, not really worth $8

Equivalent to a score of 43% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating)

Review by KnucklesSonic8
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