Oh my goodness… This Atari ST conversion of Ultima II, by Robert Eric Heitman, uses a mouse-driven GEM interface as an “enhancement” over the original, and this – in my opinion – has turned the game into kitty litter…
Not only does this version look bad, with a horrible, brightly-coloured tileset, but the view window actually reduces how much of the play area you can see at any one time, which is not ideal (in fact it’s an unnecessary handicap). Even worse: the point-and-click gameplay doesn’t really suit this game, and while it does still work, it doesn’t work very well at all.
The main character moves where you left-click on the map, and all the key-presses have been replaced by commands on pull-down menus. You enter towns, talk to people, and attack monsters by left-clicking on them. The problem with this is that it’s easy to over-shoot where you want to go, and to accidentally open a pull-down menu. Even worse: getting in and out of boats, and clicking your way through dungeons, is more difficult than it should be because the game seems to constantly over-react when you click. The only aspect of the gameplay that works better than the original is that you can attack diagonally in this, which is useful.
The game might have worked better if the programmer had at least given you the option of moving the main character using the cursor keys, or using keyboard commands – as well as allowing you to use the mouse – but that doesn’t seem to be possible. It’s click to move, or be damned. And be damned it is… Because this is a poor conversion and making the game mouse-driven was a mistake on the part of the programmer. Back in 1985 mouse controls were definitely a novelty, but Ultima II is a good game that’s worth more than being overridden by a novelty.
And these aren’t the only issues with the game. You can’t save without quitting out, which is ridiculous for a game where saving regularly is important. Also the programmer has changed a few other elements that weren’t necessary, and which make the game more frustrating to play, like the hotel clerk now only upgrading your stats by one point each (instead of up to four points per payment), which means having to grind for money far more than before; and changing the agility requirements for equipping weapons. I think Mr. Heitman definitely overstepped his remit when converting this game to the ST and his message in the ‘About’ menu just rubs salt into the wounds.
Ultima II was one of the first commercial games available for the Atari ST, coming out not long after the machine’s launch in 1985. It probably has its fans, but I’m not one of them. While this isn’t a bad game, it’s little more than a demonstration of the ST‘s GEM environment that hasn’t aged well.