In 1983, I was six years old, barely able to reach the controls of an arcade console, when a new game called Space Ace, created with the help of cartoon legend Don Bluth, was happily destroying my life. One of the first games to incorporate a laserdisc within the arcade cabinet itself, the title offered amazing graphics and sound that dwarfed anything being offered in the early ’80s, thereby making the game something of a video-arcade classic.
Twenty-six years later, Space Ace has found a home on the iPhone and iPod touch. In the mobile version of Space Ace from Dragon’s Lair, you take on the role of Dexter, a lone space warrior who must rescue Kimberly and save Earth from the evil Commander Borf, who plans to reduce all of humanity to infants via his Infanto Ray. The action runs the gamut from platform jumping to swimming to space combat to the final encounter with Borf and the Infanto Ray itself.
It’s the remastered content that sells this title, and, 26 years later, Space Ace looks and sounds better than ever on the iPhone. Every laser blast, evil Borf cackle, back-and-forth dialogue between Dexter and Kimberly, and “Engergize” sequence where Dexter’s muscle tone increases or shrinks back given his physical state is there. Finally, the ego-destroying death scenes are back where Dexter drowns, is shot, eaten, mauled, vaporized or falls off a cliff are back—Space Ace would be incomplete without them.
The time and effort Dragon’s Lair put into adapting Space Ace for the iPhone shines through the game. Touchscreen controls are, for the most part, crisp and responsive. A nice use of options lets you either spread the control buttons across the screen or contain them in one corner like a directional pad. Other options allow for left-handed play as well as infinite lives. The game supports three difficulty settings (“Cadet”, “Captain” and “Ace”) to play on.
Space Ace was renowned as one of the hardest games you could drop a quarter into in the arcade, which helps and hinders the iPhone version. While the old-school challenge is back, the game can become extremely frustrating. Even on the easiest setting, hitting the wrong directional or fire button a quarter of a second early or late signals an instant death. While this will yank in nostalgic fans of the game, it makes the initial experience frustrating for younger and casual players approaching Space Ace for the first time.
In spite of its three difficulty settings, there’s only so much replay value to be had here. Once the game is beaten, the next difficulty level runs through the same story content but lowers the available response time, which can be fun but makes Space Ace’s $5 price tag a bit steep. Although the game runs well under the recent iPhone OS 3.0 update, additional bells and whistles such as a global scoreboard (to give the insanely hardcore players their bragging rights) could add value to the game and keep players coming back for more.
Space Ace is compatible with any iPhone or iPod touch running the iPhone 2.x software update.
[Chris Barylick is a frequent contributor to Macworld and has yet to have the effects of puberty and working out taken from him via a quick blast from an Infanto Ray.]