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Space Ace

Genre: FMV Developer: Readysoft Publisher: Readysoft Players: 1 Released: 1994

Saving the galaxy as a dashing, muscular hero, fighting back alien invaders, blasting away evil robots, shooting down space fighters and rescuing the girl of your dreams. Sounds like something every teenage boy dreams of, doesn’t it? Well, back in the ’80s, animator/director Don Bluth and his crew thought likewise. After their successful laser disc game Dragon’s Lair, they decided to follow up with a sci-fi adventure in a similar vein. The Result: Space Ace” a space hero epic – with a twist.

The eponymous Space Ace is, character-wise, more than just Dirk the Daring’s dashing cousin. Before starting the game you are treated to a short intro, which tells our hero’s story. He’s everything you imagine about your typical pulp-space tough guy to be: he’s muscular, strong, wise-cracking, armed with a blaster and an overall tough guy, always with a good one-liner on his lips. Unfortunately, when the evil villain Borf (voiced by an electronically altered Don Bluth himself) attacks, he gets hit by his nefarious secret weapon, The Infanto Ray, which  turns Ace into a gangly, geeky kid named Dexter. Battling not only with evil forces, but with the drawbacks of a teenage body as well, Dexter/Ace now does not only have to stop Borf’s evil plans, but also needs to rescue Kimberly, the girls of his dreams, who got captured by the invader. You can revisit the intro again from the main menu if you like, as well as a (very pixilated) demo reel of Dragon’s Lair and a blurb about Braindead 13, another FMV-title that was apparently planned for a Sega CD release but never came out on the Genesis add-on (it did see release for PC, Sega Saturn and Sony PSX, however).

The game controls like most other FMVs do: Press the right button at the right time, or face instant death. Like in Dragon’s Lair, you control most of Dexter’s actions with the D-Pad, while occasionally using a weapon (in Space Ace’s case a blaster) with the B-button. However, there are a few new features that set this game apart from its predecessor, aside from the sci-fi setting. Every once in a while a screen with the words “Energize” flashes up. Hit B at the right moment, and Dexter turns back into Space Ace, science fiction hero extraordinaire. As Dexter, you are reduced to dodging and running away most of the time. As Ace, it’s time to fight back and kick some ass! Unfortunately, hero time is very limited, and once the Energizing is over, Ace turns back into Dexter again. While becoming Ace is a refreshing change of pace, it also makes the game harder. You get additional scenes to fight through, and once you turn back into Dexter, the games most often resumes where it had left off before you energized. You can basically say that as Dexter you get fewer and easier scenes of running away, while Ace gets the tougher challenges of fighting back. You have to turn into Ace at least once (during the final battle) to win the game, though.

Other than that, another new feature is that the game usually gives you some sort of visual clue of what to do next. If an area on the screen (or your weapon) flashes, it’s generally a hint of what action to do next. It doesn’t always work that way, though. Sometimes a different area flashes up that you should actually avoid, other times the flashing doesn’t occur at all and you’re left to guessing. Basically, this reduces the game to less of a reaction game and more of a trial and error affair.

And what a trial and error affair it is. The pacing of the game is incredibly fast! Even if you get a hint of what to do next, the window for pulling off the right move miniscule. You will keep on dying without knowing of what hit you or when to defend yourself. Fortunately, the game grants you some leeway into pulling off the right move. Most of the time it breaks down like this: you have to know in advance when a scene will come up and where you will have to move, and hit the right button slightly BEFORE the visual clue would occur. The game is split up into a series of 13 sequences – die, and you have to play the entire sequence again from the beginning! That way, the game basically breaks down to an animated version of Simon, with increasing difficulty – the farther you’re into the game, the longer the sequences get.

But what sequences there are! Say whatever you want about the gameplay, but the animation is top notch! While the limited color palette is noticeable and the videos are grainy, this doesn’t limit the fluidity of movement. The screen shots don’t really do the game justice, as the pixilation isn’t as obvious when the action is moving.

The game tells a rather simple, but entertaining story with quite a bit of dialogue, especially during the Ace scenes. My personal favorite is the witty banter between Ace and Kimberly during the motorcycle chase sequence. Also, whenever you hit the “Energize”-sequences and turn into Ace, the heroic theme kicks in, so you know that now’s the time to kick some ass! Both Ace and Dexter scenes can be entertaining and genuinely funny at times. Unfortunately, you don’t have the time to take in these moments, as the fast pace forces you to remain constantly on the ball. One mistake, and you have to start the sequence over. So you generally pay more attention to getting the button presses right that to what is actually happening in terms of story progression.

Another downside of the quickness of events. Once you have the motions down, you realize that the game is incredibly short. Played flawlessly, the whole adventure is finished in less than 10 minutes! Okay, to get there you’ll definitely witness dozens, if not hundreds of different death animations, some of them pretty quirky by themselves. Overall, it still makes for an incredibly short game. At least there is a certain amount of replay value, since you can play the game either solely as Dexter or take a shot at the Ace sequences, which are not only harder but tell more of the overall story as well.

The game would definitely have profited by slower pacing, as players would have more time to enjoy the beautiful animation and take in the quirky, though painfully short story. It would also have helped with the controls, since you basically need to press the right button before the scene requiring your action starts. So if you want to really take in the story and the quirky events, you have no other choice but to learn the entirety of the game by heart. For most, this will probably too much of a chore to be truly enjoyable, and understandably so. Nevertheless, for a FMV game it’s rather entertaining and pleasant to look at. So if you got a good memory and fast reflexes, you might be in for a treat, but then you’d be better off to grab one of the re-releases for the iPhone, Wii or as a downloadable title from the PSN, where you can enjoy the game in its full visual glory  and not the reduced pixilated mess the Sega CD has to offer.

SCORE: 5 out of 10

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