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Ultima (Apple II) artwork

Ultima (Apple II) review


"Origin did the right thing releasing an improved version of Ultima I. The original, with less entertaining graphics and horrid controls, is tougher to find on the net. It's best to enjoy the chubby townsmen bouncing around bushes bigger than they are and ignore the silly plot: build a time machine to knock off the wizard Mondain before he can craft a powerful evil gem. Then, U1 is straightforward kill-the-big-wizard fun. "



Origin did the right thing releasing an improved version of Ultima I. The original, with less entertaining graphics and horrid controls, is tougher to find on the net. It's best to enjoy the chubby townsmen bouncing around bushes bigger than they are and ignore the silly plot: build a time machine to knock off the wizard Mondain before he can craft a powerful evil gem. Then, U1 is straightforward kill-the-big-wizard fun.

You can finish it in an afternoon even if you don't load up on charisma to start, making everything cheap. Otherwise, you'll starve easily, as either your hit points or food dropping to zero kills you so you reappearing somewhere random on your continent--with no gold and little food and HP. Monsters aren't so bad, really, but given how much gold can go to food, buying reasonable armor, weapons and transport requires a break. Once you get a horse, food consumption drops, and with boats or hovercars, gunning down animated stick figure mages or bears becomes effortless. Lucrative, too.

Stat farming's even better once you explore. The four continents--flips and rotations of each other, down to the towns and dungeons--each have two islands with signposts. Visit one, and you get an attribute bonus. Visit another and return, and get it again. Bash between these, a couple towns, and a dungeon, and you've got enough for the tricky monster-slaying quests that castle lords give you.

These give challenge but are painful beyond dreary line-drawn graphics. Gelatinous cubes, which mimic walls, chew up your armor or cast spells from behind, gremlins steal food with each step, and it's never clear which side enemies attack from. Often you'll wind up losing hit points just because you guess wrong. No matter how many enemies you bulk up against just above the area that gives you trouble, bad things will happen. Even the spells that move you up or down a level don't avoid bad damage. They cost relatively little. The best part of the dungeon is getting out, and not just because of the arbitrary gold bonus you get.

Castles handle strategic combat better. You need to kill Guards to retrieve a prison key and rescue a princess. Attack one guy, and his buddies all converge, which is tough in open space even if you're at the maximum 9999 hit points. Pulling back and bopping them is strategic fun, so killing good guys is fairer than killing bad guys.

This is forgivably senseless, but the space quests aren't. You see, you need to shoot down twenty enemy spacecraft to become a space ace and operate the time machine to kill Mondain. Bartenders at various town pubs say so. The whole affair is a rip-off of Star Raiders, except the enemies move predictably, and you only face one at a time. Running out of fuel, thus having to save for another shuttle on resurrection, is a constant worry as you must visit several sectors. Overall the space scenes took away from some detail that could've been added to towns or dungeons, or the blocky final encounter with Mondain, who turns into a bat.

U1 isn't worth a newcomer's serious, intense look, but it's straightforward and not particularly difficult even if you handicap yourself with bad starting stats. It was probably most fun when I just wandered around shooting enemies, procrastinating the space quest. The most memorable part for non-initiates may be the space travel bloopers. Ultima fans will enjoy seeing old friends Shamino, Lord British, and Iolo pop up, along with the simple yet effective sea, grass and mountain graphics. Many monster icons lasted a few games too. Still, U1's crowning virtue is how it became U4 and U5 as Lord British moved through his twenties and hired programmers, leaving him time to think of a real plot.

Rating: 6/10

aschultz's avatar
Community review by aschultz (March 15, 2010)

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