Remember Dragon's Lair? Actually, that was a rhetorical question, so even if you answered "Yes, indeed I do remember it. I remember it as well as I remember this morning", we're going to explain what it was all about anyway. Sorry, but there are some people out there who won't have seen it and they might want to know why we're mentioning it. Anyway, you can always skip the next paragraph, so we don't really know what the problem is. (Just get on with it. Ed.)
Dragon's Lair was a hit in the arcades absolutely donkey's years ago. We're talking early '80s here. But no, the graphics weren't akin to Galaxians or Space Invaders or Asteroids. In fact, they were actually 'something else'. What stared out of monitor screens around the country were cartoon graphics of a television quality. Like He-Man And The Masters Of The Universe. (Not that we're saying He-Man is an incredible work of animation genius but if you imagine it as a computer game you'll have to concur that, yes, it would be rather impressive).
This feat was brought about by the very latest (then) laser disk technology and as you can imagine, the stand-up cabinets were in constant use.
Space Ace was the 'not so quite so splash making' sequel to Dragon's Lair, itself appearing quite a long time ago. But now, thanks to the miracle of modern technology, here is the scrounged up into four disk loads - ready to splurge its way onto your very own television screen.
Space Ace, basically, is an animated action cartoon adventure. Evil Commander Borf is attacking earth. With the aid of his dreaded weapon, the Infanto Ray, he intends to transform the entire population of the planet into infants and then take control. Only two people have the strength and courage to stop him: Mike Smith and Noel Edmunds. Oh, hang on, that's not right - actually these people are 'the heroic Space Ace' and 'the beautiful Kimberley'. But as they approach Borf's stronghold, Ace is hit by the ray, changing him into a weakling - and to add insult to injury, Kimberly gets herself kidnapped by the evil fiend. Hmmm, maybe Ace and Kimberly weren't quite so clever after all.
Anyway, in the time-honoured sexist tradition, Space Ace has to rescue Kim from the blue baddie. (She won't mind if we call her Kim, surely?) There's one little problem though. Remember that Ace was hit by the ray? Yeah? Well, that means that he changes between a hulky bicep-wibbling he-man and a wimpy alter-ego called Dexter at various stages throughout the game.
What you have to realise is that you haven't got total control over the character you play. Basically, the game is 40 or so 'animated cartoon film clips' in which the action is orchestrated. You watch the on-screen action and occasionally get a chance to click the joystick in the direction you think Space Ace should go next. For instance, here's the first scene playing itself without touching the stick at all.
"Ace is standing on a rocky outcrop. Borf appears on an anti-gravity platform. He fires his laser first to the left, then to the right and then directly at our hero, who is frazzled."
The trick is to tap the joystick to the right while Borf is firing to the sides. When the graphics routine reaches the point where the laser bolt would have been shot at our hero, the computer 'remembers' that the joystick has been moved in the correct direction and continues the sequence, with Ace jumping out of the way of the blast.
Another joystick tap (to the left this time) will jump Ace to the left, and then a downward click will have him jumping to the side and ducking behind a rock. You have now completed the first level. And it's instantaneously onto the next.
Have a gander at the screens. Each one is actually a 'level', with some absolutely fantastic animation going on - although you won't be able to see that, obviously. Oh, and the sound is as good as the visuals. Loads of samples and loads of music.
Dunc: This is a funny old game, to be sure. In fact, it's not really a 'game' at all. Well, at least not in the sense that we're all used to. In fact it's more of a showcase for some outstanding graphics, animation and sound - with a bit of gameplay sort of 'sellotaped' onto the side. So, the best thing for me to do is separate the game from the graphics and sound and review them independently. Here goes.
The graphics. Absolutely outstanding. They really are. Just looking at the stills (as you are) you might think they're rather nice static title scenes. But oh no, they move alright. Just like a cartoon on the telly. Everyone who walked into the office while Space Ace was being played went boggle eyed. At one point there was actually a crowd around the monitor (well, about five members of staff and a motorcycle courier who thought we were watching Thundercats).
All the scenes are dramatically different and come at you fast in bursts of about 10 seconds or so - once you've actually learnt how to play the game, that is. In fact, the graphics are more or less your only reward for persevering, but I'll get to that in a minute. The sounds that accompany the pictures are also rather skill. Samples ahoy, and loads of music. Again, it's like watching (i.e. listening) to a cartoon on the telly. And that's really the only way to describe it.
The gameplay. Um, oh dear, I knew I'd get to this eventually. Erm, basically, you have to move the joystick either up, left, right or down at certain key moments and then watch to see if your timing and direction were right. If they weren't, you lose a life (from the initial three) and go back to the start of the game.
Each level has about three joystick moves to it in order to continue. Three simple moves might sound like a piece of cake, but believe me, you really have to do a lot of 'trial and error' runs to find out exactly when they're required and which way you should push the stick. It would be quicker and easier if the computer asked you to guess a random number between one and a hundred - only allowing progress when you'd guessed correctly three times in a row.
Well, maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration, but you know what I mean. You really don't have enough control which I suppose is the whole point - but if something doesn't work, it doesn't work. To be frank, your only reward for persevering is to see how awesome the graphics are going to become on later levels.
Unfortunately you already know: the standard is set from the word go in this game. Having slagged the gameplay off, I will add a little 'but' and it's this: I have had the merest little niggling urge to go and load Space Ace up again. Only a tiny urge, it must be said, but it's there. Hmm.
Basically my advice would go like this. If you're totally loaded, and I mean absolutely rolling in cash, then it's worth buying so you can learn a few levels and show people just what a home computer is capable of graphically. You might even get to like the game itself. However, if you're an extremely skint sort of person, then don't expect to get good value in the lastability stakes. This game is brilliant' but it's also a little bit crap.