But Before I get in to the game in question, I feel a backstory is in order. Space Ace is, as stated, a spiritual successor to the iconic arcade classic, Dragon's Lair. Before games like Shenmue, Resident Evil 4, and God of War made quick time events the norm for video games, Dragon's Lair and Space Ace were pioneers in that they were the only games on the market that were ALL quick time events. You watch a full motion video, wait for something in the scene to glow, and use the controller based on the action of screen. Yeah, there wasnt much in gameplay variety (you basically played the game exactly as the game tells you to everytime) but the game was helped by amazing animations by legendary cartoonist Don Bluth (All Dogs Go To Heaven, Land Before Time, An American Tale). Both games were a hit at arcades, so naturally it was inevitable that ports would appear on the major consoles of the time. But in that lay the problem: how do you port a game as massive as Dragons Lair or Space Ace onto the NES/SNES. Both games were built upon Laserdisc technology (for those of you that don't know, LDs were the size of dinner plates).
So how do you transfer the game to a new platform without ruining the integrity of gameplay? Well, if the 1990 NES port of Dragon's Lair is any indication, you weren't. But this was 1994, well into the lifespan of the Super Nintendo, a console that was twice the power of its predecessor. So would the SNES have enough of the horsepower to withstand the awesome might of Space Ace? The short answer: No. Space Ace for the SNES is a mess. Space Ace, for those of you who are to young to remember when these games were popular in the arcades (if you remember what an arcade even IS) tells the tale of Ace, a muscle-bound stereotypical hero and the evil villain, Borf. Borf uses his new "Infanto-Ray" to turn Ace into a scrawny, adolescent version of himself, dubbed Dexter, while also stealing Ace's girlfriend, Kimberly. Ace/Dexter must travel the galaxy, save Kimberly, and stop Borf from using his Infanto-Ray on the whole Earth.
If there is one solace I can give it, is that it does try more than its Dragon's Lair counter part to match the source material. The developers O.D.E (a company who's only other credit is ports of the game Deathbringer from 1991) tried their best to emulate the games levels to the best of their ability. Playing the opening level and going back to watch the first scene from the arcade version, you can see that alot of the set pieces from the movie as well as the enemies are taken right from the game. From Borf shooting his laser at Dexter, to the flying laser-bots and rock crushers, the levels are mimicked to the best of their ability given the massive limitations of the hardware. Having said all that, the game has alot of issues. Firstly, say goodbye to those gorgeous animations. FMVs were none-existent in early cartridge titles. The best you get is in the opening splash page. If you leave the controller alone long enough, you get this really awkward back and forth pan of the side profiles of Ace and Borf, with Kimberly in the background having the only animations, and its just her eyes blinking as she smiles creepily. The only other things you get in terms of "cut-scenes" are these tiny windows of very-pixelated animation that look like they were taken from the arcade game. Imagine your TV, but the window is about the size of your smart phone. Its worse than what they used to do with FMVs on the Sega CD.
Gameplay-wise, the game is a mess. It took me YEARS to understand how the controls work. First off, you character moves like he's wading through mud. I think this was due to the extra frames of animation they gave him to try to emulate the look of the original, but it just makes dodging obstacles that much harder. Jumping is also a pain as it works on pressure. The harder you hold the jump button, the farther you will go. Its takes alot to get used to. Jumping is also insanely stiff. You need to time your jump command and D-pad command perfectly or you'll end up just jumping in place alot more than you would like (its actually alot harder than it sounds). And you better make sure where you want to jump is EXACTLY where you want, because this game has no give with its jump mechanics. Compounding the frustration is that your hit detection is unforgiving. If even a pixel touches the enemies on screen, you lose a life. There's no health meter in sight (not even a fake one like in Dragon's Lair NES). This isn't helped by the perspective, which is shot in an awkward 3D isometric view, except everything is made in 2D, which means you have no way of judging how close or far you are from the enemy in or out of the screen. Going back to jumping, because of the perspective you have little indication of how far you have to jump. Your only indicator is the faint shadow your character gives off under him. At certain points in the game, you get the ability to "transform" into Space Ace by holding the shoulder buttons. Its here where the gameplay changes, in that you're allowed to now shoot things. Even then, shooting is a chore because of the controls. What I think is going on is that the buttons correspond to your placement, meaning that the Y, X, and A buttons correspond to left, right, and forward respectively. Or at least I think that's the case, because most of the time I had to resort to just tapping either of the buttons until my cursor snapped to the character I wanted dead. Mid you, all of these issues rear their ugly head in the first level. Its in the second "level" that things take a turn for the worst.
The next level is this Mode 7-style top-down flying mode meant to emulate the space maze scenes from the arcade game. At first I always thought this was just some stand alone independent level where I had to navigate a maze while dodging meteors and avoiding the walls, except occasionally i would find what looked like level portals that just didn't do anything. It was then that I realized that this level was actually your overall map screen. Every time you beat one of the main levels, you go back here and have a aimlessly travel around looking for a portal that you either havent already beat, or have still not unlocked yet. This gameplay mechanic is probably the most annoying part of the game. I can deal with a maze level so long as i know that there's just one ending you need to go to. but when you throw a bunch of Red Herring portals that do nothing, trying to find where I'm supposed to go becomes a lesson patience, which this game has already burned away. And the fact that you can still die on the map screen just makes things even worse. You'll basically be spending your time flying aimlessly around, constantly making u-turns because the portal you found wasnt right, and trying not to die by hitting the walls or meteors (the walls at least take down a leveled shield, whereas the meteors are still one-hit kills) If you're gonna do this, at least give me an indicator of the general direction of what level i can go to, especially since the maze itself seems massive and full of random twists and turns.
Graphically the game is unimpressive. Some characters try to have some kind of animation, but the frames are choppy and low-res. Overall backgrounds are bland and flat, I assume to emulate the flat art style in the arcade game. the only shadows you get are in the flying levels, and thats only because of Nintendo games liking to go "hey, look how 3D we can make things with Mode-7, it almost looks 3D". And like i said, what little full motion video they use it tiny and pixelated. sound-wise the game uses only one or two overall music scores repeated on a loop, with the occasional low-res soundbyte from the arcade game. This does nothing to show the real capabilities of the sound chip on the SNES (read my review of ActRaiser for that).
Now, I can forgive ALL of that. I can forgive the demanding difficulty. I can forgive the bland art and poor sound. I can even forgive the shoddy controls (they arent broken, they just need alot of getting used to) but what is inexcusable is the choice to have limited lives and ZERO continues. you get about 6 lives in the entire game, and if you die, you go right back to the beginning of the game. Occasionally you do find these spinning tiles on the ground that make you think thet're continues, but they only allow you to play levels over again for practice. If you want to play the whole game through, it has to be through one sitting, and with very little to no mistakes. that is inexcusable in a game this stringent on trial and error gameplay. It has taken me YEARS just to beat the first level. Years to figure out all the nuances in the game's poor controls, years to figure out where exactly the game wants me to stand and jump. To expect gamers to go through that process in one shot is insane. to expect them to put up with having to play this game hundreds of times just to figure it all out is more insane. Had this just been unlimited continues, or a password system in place, then they game could have been salvagable even with the difficulty. But this takes a valiant attempt at an arcade port and just flushes its aspirations down the drain.
Final thoughts: While it does try harder than its predecessors attempt at porting, its still a poor game on its own, and a travesty to its source. Dont bother getting this game. If you're curoius about, emulate it. Dont worry about piracy, I'm sure you'll be deleting this game off your PC sooner than you think.