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Space Ace – SNES

Space Ace – SNES

PlatformSuper Nintendo

DeveloperEmpire Software

PublisherAbsolute Entertainment

Release Date: May 1994 (NA)


Rating: 1.5 out of 10

Reviewed by Nike Halifax

“I give up, that’s it.”

–Jon Jafari

I don’t like Don Bluth. I don’t like his movies. I don’t like his animation style. I like The Land Before Time and An American Tail, and that’s about it. I’m at a disadvantage when I say this, because I haven’t seen a whole lot of what he has to offer. Most of what I have seen, however, I don’t like. I never played the original Dragon’s Lair. I never played the original Space Ace. But I played this. And you know what? I didn’t like it.

How dare you.

How dare you.

JonTron did a review of the SNES version of Space Ace awhile back. I love Jon; he’s around number 5 or 6 on the list of men that make me question whether I’m exclusively heterosexual (right below Luigi and Idris Elba). However, like any caustic internet critic, Jon’s prone to exaggerating how bad something is for the sake of comedy, so his review gave me the impression that what I bought for six bucks from the local game store is a laughably bad port of a hokey LaserDisc cartoon. Jon gave the incorrect impression. If anything, he undersold how bad Space Ace is.





The first and most important thing you have to realize is that there are roughly three types of adaptation for video games: true ports, localized translations, and literal translations. Space Ace for the SNES is not a port of the original game. The 360 and PS3 share a lot of ports (Mass Effect, Bayonetta, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, GTAIV, etc). The SNES version of DOOM is a port. A “true” port can have elements added or subtracted from the original product, but it’s more or less a 1:1 transcription of gameplay between platforms. It doesn’t matter if the code is entirely different, or the colors are a little off, or whatever—if the general gist is the same, it’s a port. So Space Ace for the SNES is not a port. Nor is it a translation, at least not a localized one.
If that's not true-to-arcade, I don't know what is.

If that’s not true-to-arcade, I don’t know what is.

In linguistics, a “localized” translation is what happens when you adapt the meaning and structure of the initial phrase to fit the conventions of the target language, which ensures that the target language properly captures the original phrase’s meaning. Per esempio, an Italian phrase like “una bicicletta verde” is most commonly going to be rendered in English as “a green bicycle.” This translation is correct, but it’s not literal. Were it to be literal, the end result would be “a bicycle green,” which goes against the English convention of placing the adjective before the noun. This applies to cultural barriers between languages as well. The Russian phrase “Вешать лапшу на уши” roughly translates into English as “to hang noodles on one’s ears.” A silly phrase to be sure, but it’s a Russian idiom, one that’s analogous to the English phrase “to pull one’s leg”–which is probably how it would be rendered if it were translated into English. Otherwise, the meaning of the phrase could be lost on the English reader, thus defeating the point of a translation.

That works too.

That works too.

“Localized” translations are less common in the gaming world (at least in regards to porting software between platforms–localizing game content like jokes, item names, and sometimes even plot elements, is an important part of bringing a game to an international audience), but the Wii would often see a translation of PS3/360 titles, one that would tailor to the system’s control scheme and graphical shortcomings. Even something like porting the original Metroid Prime from the Gamecube to the Wii is something of a “localized” translation.

I promise this is all relevant to Space Ace.

I promise this is all relevant to Space Ace.

The problem is that Space Ace on the SNES is a literal translation, and a botched one at that. A literal translation is how things like Engrish are created. Here’s another linguistic example: I don’t understand a word of Japanese. If I go to a Japanese website, I’m completely lost. Depending on what web browser I’m using, I may be given the option to translate that site into English. That “translation” doesn’t make things any easier to understand, because the gibberish you’re given still doesn’t make sense. That’s because English and Japanese seem to have fundamentally different grammatical rules, and doing a literal translation  from one language to another is a dangerous game even if you’re doing it between two languages with as much structural and etymological overlap as Spanish and Italian.

tasty ass

I did some screwing around. That first sentence is Italian. It should read “Are you ready for my tasty butter?” Translators are fun.

If Space Ace on the SNES were simply a bad game, it’d be the gaming equivalent of directly translating Japanese to English. Thing is, it isn’t just bad. It’s awful. No, see, Space Ace is the gaming equivalent of directly translating Tlingit to English, because it takes the mechanics of a twitch-reflex, decision-based, pre-scripted, FMV video game and attempts to shoehorn them into a real-time scrolling 2D platformer. It’s like…it’s like taking Pac-Man and turning it into a fighting game, but the goal is still to move through a maze eating dots and avoiding ghosts. That’s what I’ve spent all this time trying to explain to you: there is a fundamental wrongness in Space Ace.

wait wut

wait wat?

I understand that the SNES version couldn’t have high quality video and audio. I understand that you have to work within the inherent limitations of the console. What I don’t understand is why they completely Borfed warped the foundations of the game. I may not have played the original Space Ace, but I’ve played my fair share of Sega CD titles, and I’ve watched someone play through the original game, so I know how FMV trial-and-error games work. They basically boil down to quick-time-events, making split-second choices, and hoping you made the right choice at the right time. That’s why they’re inevitably bad. The saving grace of the Bluth Arcade-toons is the high-quality presentation  and (mostly) seamless transition from cause (your input) to effect (result of your input). Even if you’ve played the game a thousand times and know exactly what to do, it doesn’t feel like you’re wasting your life because at least you get a decent movie out of the experience.

Complex Plot

My manhood…?

mspaint monsterThe SNES version doesn’t have any of that–the visuals are impressive for their size and detail, but the art style is shoddy. Some things, especially the larger monster designs, look like they were copy-pasted from MS Paint. The plot is literally thrown at you in the opening screens. It’s presented in that spinning format you see with newspaper headlines in the movies, except there’s no newspaper, just green text in a black void. That spinning doesn’t stop, it just runs through the story elements and expects you to press Start at some point. You’ll be lucky if you even manage to read all of it in one go. Is the story important? In this version, no…and that’s part of the problem. Space Ace relies on presentation–the animation, the soundtrack, the simple-but-relatable story and characters, the cheeky and cheesy one-liners. None of that’s here. I’ve already touched on the visuals. The sound? From the moment you boot up the game to the moment you finish, you’ll be hearing the same nauseating loop of muffled SNES-schlock, with little exception. This, I presume, is the developers’ half-assed attempt at emulating the score of the arcade version. It will worm its way into your skull in the worst possible way, like a Yeerk wriggling through your ear and taking over your brain. The only breaks you get are the Space Maze levels, end-level fanfare, and compressed samplings of Borf’s laughter when you inevitably die.

Anyone else think that mountain in the background looks like my lost manhood?

Anyone else think that mountain in the background looks like my lost manhood?

That phrase there–“when you inevitably die”–that’s the rub. That’s what sends this game straight to the trash heap. Does this review seem disorganized to you? It sure as hell does to me. It took me an eternity to write it and the structure’s still shot to hell. Do you want to know why? It’s because I don’t understand how you can screw an adaptation up this badly. JonTron managed to hit the nail on the head with the SNES version’s presentation issues, but he didn’t touch enough on the gameplay–on what makes it so…not right. I already said that SNES-Ace is a 2D platformer that tries to ape the elements of the original version. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that concept. I mean, “cinematic” platformers exist, even on the Super Nintendo. With a little tweaking, the art assets could have been really nice. The sound isn’t the greatest, but it’s not like it’s bad; it just sounds really lazy. Cutscenes and dialog quips could have been dealt with using more character-portraits and little in-game cinematics. Really, SNES-Ace being a decent experience was well within the realm of plausibility. The downfall here is that the developers tried to adapt the wrong things–mainly, the original’s gameplay. As one reviewer on IGN put it: “Space Ace on the SNES did not retain the trial-and-error mechanics — it amplified them.”* Space Ace Ship Put another way, Space Ace doesn’t care if you’re dying and it’s the last game you’ll ever play. It doesn’t like you and it doesn’t want you to win. It doesn’t want you to even play. It’s as merciless as it is poorly designed.You’re given five lives, slapped on the ass, and told to get out there and try your best–and you’re just sent out into a world where everything kills you in one hit, precarious ledges casually surround you like maggots on a corpse, checkpoint systems are non-existent, and all you have to rely on is luck. If you die, you’re sent back to the start of the level. If you die, you’re forced to watch the screen black out, show a compressed cutscene of your death, black out again, show the title card for the name of the level, and place you back at the start. It’s a long, slow, tedious process, and you will feel your entire body tense up and all the blood in your brain clot every time you miss a jump or step too soon. Again, to quote that other review: “There is a Pavlov’s Dog cruelty in Space Ace.”

Most of these screencaps are from the first level for a reason.

Most of these screencaps are from the first level for a reason.

What’s sad about all of this is that you’re basically paying for the sins of the developers. Space Ace is supposed to be a trial-and-error game, but most of the errors you’ll make will be the result of errors made by the developers. Errors like the skewed isometric perspective that makes it difficult to judge your character’s location relative to another object. Errors like the rancid jumping mechanics that only work if you make slow, methodical, calculated moves–which is impossible in this type of game. Errors like the pixel-perfect precision of your hit box, the auto-scrolling levels that haphazardly stop and start without any warning, the unpredictable-unless-you’ve-played-it-eighteen-times enemy behavior, the enemies rushing at you from off screen, the lack of any sense of logical direction (WHERE DO I GO?), the leaps of faith, or the unceremonious way you transition between levels. Errors like the fact that, despite all the speed and sharp reflexes required to get through this garbage, the levels still move at an excruciatingly slow pace. I’ve never played anything so immediately frustrating in my life. I really haven’t. This game takes me from 1 to 100 in less than ten seconds. The last time I got this mad at a game is when I lost to Dan in Street Fighter 4‘s Arcade Mode for two straight hours. I can’t even, like…I can’t. I don’t have any clever endings. The game’s a mess. This review is a mess. I’m cleansing my soul of the filth. I’m never playing it again. I’m done. It’s over. Bye.




Written by Nerd Bacon

Nerd Bacon


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  1. nerdberry
    nerdberry says:

    Wow question gioco sembra davvero terribile. Tutto da l’animazione e la impostazioni di strano per il gameplay.


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