February 25, 2017


(CBS, September 8-December 1, 1984)

Ruby-Spears Productions

Jim Piper – Space Ace
Sparky Marcus – Dexter
Nancy Cartwright – Kimberly
Peter Renaday – Space Marshall Vaughn

            Four months after the release of Dragon’s Lair in 1983former Disney animator Don Bluth revealed his second videogame creation: Space Ace.

            The game was developed by Don Bluth Studios, Cinematronics and Advanced Microcomputer Systems (later RDI Video Systems) and was similar to Dragon’s Lair. It allowed a player to play through an adventure story with feature film-quality animation. At certain points, the player would have to move the joystick in a certain direction or press a particular button at the right moment in order to continue advancing through the story. A few upgrades were made from the Dragon’s Lair game with the addition of difficulty settings, multiple choices and paths for player actions, and the ability to shift between the handsome hero and his smaller, younger self.

Promotional poster for the game.

            Space Ace followed the adventures of dashing hero Ace (Jeff Etter) as he endeavored to stop the sinister Borf (Bluth) from conquering the Earth. He planned to do so by using an “Infanto Ray” to turn everyone into helpless infants. Ace was hit by the beam and changed into his younger self, Dexter (Will Finn), and his sidekick, Kimberly (Lorna Cook), was taken captive by Borf. Using a specialized wrist gadget to “ENERGIZE,” Dexter was able to turn back into Ace for a period of time and take the fight to his enemies. Like with Dragon’s Lair, the production costs were kept low by foregoing professional actors in favor of members of Bluth’s studio voicing the characters. The only exception was Michael Rye, who was hired to handle the game’s narration as he had done with the previous game.

            Space Ace was adapted into cartoon form by Ruby-Spears Productions for the second season of their video game-based umbrella program Saturday Supercade on CBS. Ruby-Spears already had an association with Bluth as they also produced a Dragon’s Lair cartoon that aired at the same time on rival network ABC. Some liberties were taken with the source material. Ace (Jim Piper) and Kimberly (Nancy Cartwright) were members of Space Command working under Space Marshall Vaughn (Peter Renaday). They continually fought against the evil alien commander Borf (Arthur Burghardt) and his plans to try and conquer the Earth. Unfortunately, being hit by the Infanto Ray caused Ace to constantly revert into Dexter (Sparky Marcus) at inopportune times. Ace and Kimberly attempted to keep Ace’s “wimping out” a secret by claiming Dexter as Kimberly’s little brother until the effects wore off. Borf’s primary minions included the cat-like Groots, amongst a variety of humanoid agents.

Promotional flier for the Space Ace cartoon.

          Space Ace debuted as part of Supercade on September 8, 1984, with William Woodson providing the opening narration for the segments. Plots generally centered around Borf’s latest plans to conquer Earth and destroy Space Command, and typically involved the Infanto Ray modified for some specific purpose. As with the Dragon’s Lair series, the character designs were made to closely resemble their game counterparts, but lacked Bluth’s distinctive styling and the fluidity found in the game. Also, Kimberly was less of a damsel in distress and more on equal footing with Ace during their adventures; more so whenever his transformation hit.

Ace and Kimberly in the show.

            Although Space Ace ran its course with the cancellation of the Supercade, it would soon make a return in rerun form after Turner Entertainment purchased the Hanna-Barbera library, which by then also included the Ruby-Spears library as both studios were under the same ownership. Space Ace was shown on Cartoon Network late nights in the 1990s and as filler between shows on its sister station, Boomerang

Borf overseeing repairs to the Infanto Ray.

As for the game, despite an impressive marketing campaign headed by Bluth that was usually reserved for film promotion (press books, press kits and theatrical posters), it didn’t perform as well as Lair did when it hit arcades. It had a few things going against it: firstly, that initially the game was offered as a new cabinet before later being offered as a conversion kit for existing Lair cabinets; secondly, the increased difficulty level was cited as a problem; and thirdly it was released during the 1983-84 videogame crash when consumers weren’t as interested in games. Also, owners and players were more eagerly anticipating a sequel to Lair, rather than a similar game. Regardless, Ace ended up ported to various home consoles like Lair with varying degrees of success. In the early 2000s, Ace again followed Lair and was adapted into comic form in two series by CrossGen Entertainment and Arcana Studios.

“Cute Groots” (9/8/84) – Borf modifies the Infanto Ray to turn his Groots into cute kittens, which the then tricks Ace and Kimberly into letting into the moon colony.

“Cosmic Camp Catastrophe” (9/15/84) – Vaughn assigns Ace and Kimberly to accompany his nephew’s class on a camping trip that gets interrupted by Borf.

“Dangerous Decoy” (9/22/84) – Borf sets his sights on the young winner of a science fair for her video dematerializer device.

“Moon Missile Madness” (9/29/84) – Ace and Kimberly infiltrate a space cycle gang in order to prevent them from stealing a missile a missile for Borf.

“Perilous Partners” (10/6/84) – Commander Parch steals Earth’s water in order to power his weaponry and conquer the universe, which Borf can’t allow to happen.

“Frozen in Fear” (10/13/84) – Dexter accidentally flies too close to warm meteors, thawing out a frozen prehistoric creature just as Borf plans to use various creatures to attack Earth.

“Age Ray Riot” (10/20/84) – When Borf is hit by the Infanto Ray, a race is on between him and Space Ace to acquire another ray that can reverse the effects.

“Wanted: Dexter!” (10/27/84) – Space Ace and Kimberly are sent after an outlaw that resembles Dexter.

“Phantom Shuttle” (11/3/84) – Space Ace is lured to a phantom space ship so that Dregulon can use his lifeforce to power his universe-conquering monster.

“Spoiled Sports” (11/10/84) – Borf decides to conquer Space Command while its crew are competing in intergalactic games.

“Calamity Kimmie” (11/17/84) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.

“Three-Ring Rampage” (11/24/84) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.

“Infanto Fury” (12/1/84) – NO SYNOPSIS AVAILABLE.

Originally posted in 2017. Updated in 2020.

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