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Man, I remember the good old days of video games, when arcade classics like Space Invaders and Asteroids were state-of-the-art. I also remember when another video game named DRAGON’S LAIR radically altered everyone’s perception of a video game. No longer did the player have to look at blocky computer graphics, because DRAGON’S LAIR used a beautifully animated movie to redefine the video game playing field. For those unfamiliar with DRAGON’S LAIR, the game utilized a computer controlled interactive Laserdisc that allowed the player to navigate through the game’s universe. As you might have guessed, DRAGON’S LAIR was a totally new and totally cool way to play a video game. However, since the game used filmed animation, stored on a Laserdisc, the game wasn’t fully interactive. Correct movements could only be made at predefined times throughout the course of the game. Incorrect or mistimed moves were deadly. Of course, this meant that DRAGON’S LAIR ate a ton of quarters before the player could develop any proficiency at the game. Despite the limitations in game play, DRAGON’S LAIR was an enormous success thanks to the really cool hand drawn animation created by director Don Bluth (ANASTASIA, AN AMERICAN TALE & THE LAND BEFORE TIME). The success of DRAGON’S LAIR also lead to the creation of Don Bluth's SPACE ACE. As a "second generation" Laserdisc video game SPACE ACE delivered a bit more interactivity and more playability. Just like DRAGON’S LAIR, SPACE ACE also devoured an enormous amount of quarters before the player developed any proficiency. This brings us to the age of fully interactive DVD, where a game like SPACE ACE has found a new more economical home. Thanks to the folks at Digital Leisure Inc., SPACE ACE will no longer suck every last quarter out of your pocket while you take the time to master the game.

During the course of SPACE ACE, the DVD player’s remote control serves as device that will allow them to guide the actions of Ace, the game's big macho hero. With the remote, the player can choose to send Ace in any of four directions: up, down, left or right. Additionally, pressing the "enter" button on the remote will allow the player to fire Ace’s laser gun. The object of the game is to help Ace rescue his girlfriend Kimberly from the clutches of the villainous Commander Borf, who is plotting to enslave all of humanity with his "Infanto Ray." As the game starts, Ace is blasted with the "Infanto Ray" which causes him to revert into Dexter- his nerdy younger self. Of course, this development certainly doesn’t make it any easier for our hero to score in the game or with Kimberly. That is, if he ever manages to rescue her from the evil Commander Borf.

Although the animation never was intended to be shown anywhere other on a video game screen, SPACE ACE looks pretty darn good on DVD. The image is sharp and clear, plus the colors are quite vivid. Blacks are very dark and the image has smooth looking contrast. Digital compression artifacts never adversely effect image quality. The Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack sounds good, considering that the original sound elements were designed to be played on the cheap speakers housed in the cabinet of an arcade game from 1983. Even after being remixed into 5.1 channels, the soundtrack does nothing more than what it is required to do- it enhances the game environment, without distracting the player. Besides, anyone engrossed in trying to figure out his or her next move isn't going to be paying attention to the quality of channel separation, or the caliber of split surround deployment. The interactive menus are very basic, but they do give the viewer the options of playing the game or watching the entire scenario of SPACE ACE play out. Through the menus one can also access interviews with Don Bluth and SPACE ACE co-creator Rich Dyer. Coming attractions for other Digital Leisure DVD-Video games are also accessible through the menus.

SPACE ACE proves to be quite playable on DVD, although getting the knack of using the remote control takes some time, especially for a klutz like me. Accuracy of the remote control is pretty good, although not perfect. Additionally, SPACE ACE offers "regular moves" and "slow moves" options, which makes game play easier on older DVD players with sluggish response time. SPACE ACE plays on a majority of DVD movie players, with the Toshiba 2109/3109, as well as the Samsung and Aiwa players being the noted exceptions that appear on the disc's packaging.

Addendum 10/18/99: Digital Leisure has just received some great news from Toshiba -- they've fixed the problems in their 2109 and 3109 models that stopped SPACE ACE from working. Apparently all units shipped beginning in the summer have the new firmware. Customers with older versions of these model players can contact Toshiba and have their unit updated to the new firmware (which requires the unit physically be sent to Toshiba for the update).




DVD reviews are Copyright 1999 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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