While Don Bluth has never quite become a household name, the animation director has certainly gathered a cult of fans over his lengthy career. An animator who has done things his way, Bluth left Disney (where he was an animator on films like "Sleeping Beauty", "The Fox and the Hound", "The Rescuers" and "Robin Hood") in 1979 to try and go independent with a group of other Disney animators. The first result was 1982's legendary "Secret of NIMH", which still remains a favorite film of mine, long after my childhood years. When I was a kid, Bluth's films were what I wanted from an animated feature; not only did they offer a great story, but even Bluth's cutest films had some level of edge/danger and never felt as if they were consdescending to the kid audience.
While Bluth is widely known for his animated film efforts, Bluth also worked on a trio of animated video games that were groundbreaking for the time. The games were of a "choose your own adventure" style and ran off of a laserdisc. The first was the legendary "Dragon's Lair", which was followed by a "Lair" sequel and "Space Ace". While the games after "Lair" were not quite as successful, all three games still had arcade gamers not only in lines out the door when the games were first released, but willing to pay more ("Dragon's Lair" was one of the first games to cost 50 cents versus a quarter.)
"Space Ace" follows the same general format as "Lair", as players use the joystick (in this case, the remote) to guide the player through the game. Move the player around correctly and the game will then bring up the next scene. Fail and you'll see an animated scene of the player biting the dust and you'll get sent back to the beginning of the stage. In "Space Ace", you play Ace, who is attacked early on by the evil Commander Borf, who shrinks Ace down to his child form using his infanto ray. The game sees Dexter (kid version of Ace) trying to save Princess Kimberly. That's the long and short of the plot.
The game isn't going to hold up particularly well for a generation raised on titles like "Halo", but for those who were growing up during the time of "Dragon's Lair" and "Space Ace", the title certainly acts as a fun throwback to a much earlier era in videogaming. Bluth's particular animation style is also fun to see - as always - and the animation has been cleaned up considerably for this release.
Note: the set-up menu offers the option to change difficulty (cadet, captain, ace) and other gameplay features.
VIDEO: "Space Ace" is presented by Digital Leisure in 1.78:1 (1080p). While the animation isn't without some minor concerns, the presentation is nothing short of remarkable, considering the fact that the material is nearly at its 25th birthday. The elements have very obviously been given some TLC, as the only print flaws spotted are a few minor specks. There is a mild amount of grain (in some scenes more than others), but the grain is very reasonable and an element that has always been a part of the game's visuals. Sharpness and detail are improved considerably this time around, as the animation looks so crisp that I was startled to see the older material look as detailed as it does here.
Colors look superbly saturated, with the game's rich color palette looking bold, bright and never smeary. Again, while no one will confuse this with either a newer video game or animated movie, the picture quality here is exceptional - considering the age of the game. "Space Ace" really doesn't look its age on this Blu-Ray edition. A 1.33:1 full-frame edition is also offered (go to the "Set-Up" menu.)
SOUND: "Space Ace" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. The sound mix has been expanded for this presentation, but it is clearly an older stereo presentation repurposed for 5.1. Still, the effort is apprecated and there are some moments of primitive - if still pleasing - surround activity. Audio quality is fine, with clear dialogue.
EXTRAS: The extras are in HD. These include a video commentary from Don Bluth, Gary Goldman and Rick Dyer that plays along with a "watch" version of the game (watch all the animation without playing.) Their commentary is a good deal of fun, as the trio seem to be highly entertained as they look back at their creation. Despite a fairly short running time, we do hear a lot of good tidbits about not only the production of the game, but the reception that it encountered. We also get a brief interview with the trio and a progression reel that shows the visual difference between the image quality of all of the editions of the game. Finally, we get previews for other titles from Digital Leisure.
Final Thoughts: "Space Ace" will likely appeal more to the generation that grew up with it than the younger crowd, but fans will be thrilled with the Blu-Ray, which offers not only some very nice added features (such as the video commentary), but audio/video quality that is clearly ahead of any other prior release of the game. Recommended.