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JadeDragon's reviews and playing tips: Pocket PC games

Ultima Underworld, by ZIO Interactive $29.95
Reviewed May 2002

As if you didn't kill enough of the monsters in Ultima Underworld years ago in those incredible UU series, ZIO Interactive is resurrecting Ultima Underworld yet again, this time on Pocket PC. For your veteran UU addicts this Pocket PC port won't be a stranger at all. But for the rest of you, I think this game will be a very interesting journey to the dark underworld and its monsters.

The game starts with a cut scene, which was pretty to watch. The dialogue sounds like something straight out of a Shakespearian play. But you should be able to make out what Lord Baron Almric wants you to do, which is to go down to the Stygian Abyss and rescue his daughter whom has just been kidnapped. You'll be escorted to the dungeon by the Lord's guards and securely locked inside of the Stygian Abyss. The game starts where the cut scene movie ends. You are in the first level of the dungeon with writings on the wall that reads: "We attacked the entrance with all manner of tools, but it gave not a hair. It simply cannot be breached. Hence we have resigned ourselves to die in this hellish pit." Lovely, isn't it? From here on, you will be roaming around in this dark and creepy place all by yourself. In addition to rescuing the girl, you have to find eight rune stones that Sir Cabirus had collected and planned to present each of these artifacts to a different group or faction within his community to cement the harmony.

When you start the game for the first time, you can create your character by giving him or her a Class (Fighter, Mage, Bard, Tinker, Druid, Paladin, Ranger and Shepherd), Gender, Handedness (leftie or rightie), Difficulty level, Portrait (five pictures to choose from) and name. For RPG veteran gamers, this isn't much different from other RPGs. As far as how much magic or fight power each character has, you have to play them to find out. There are 8 levels of dungeons you can explore, each one is a pretty long journey with many twists and turns, which gives the game great depth.

The game screen gives you all the information about your character. On the left hand side there is a panel of icons to give you access to the in-game menu (save game, sound and music on/off, detailed level setting, exit, etc.) as well as action icons such as Talk, Pick-up, Look, Fight, Open. On the right hand side, there is a character panel that shows your inventory and collection of rune stones. There is a pull chain underneath the character panel for flipping to the stats screen that shows your Strength Dex Vital, Mana, Experience levels, as well as weapon stats. Under the game window, you will find a compass, Mana Flask, HP Flask, Power Gem, Current Spells and Runes. Under these is the display window that shows game information such as writings on the walls or scrolls or item info. At the very bottom of the screen is the in-game keyboard that you will use from time to time.

The game screen has a lot of information, but the actual 3D view of game play is about 1/3 size of a Pocket PC window. I think this is a style carried over from the PC, nonetheless you will hold your Pocket PC very close to your face to play this game. When you meet a character, you can talk to them, then a conversation screen will show you the dialogue and a barter window shows what everyone has, which is a very nice touch. You will find this is a huge plus when you really need something or have too much to carry. There are ton of goodies to pick up in the dungeon, but not a lot you can carry.

The actual movements of characters are pretty smooth, can be compared to Doom. Both button control and stylus control are very smooth, especially the stylus movement control which was surprisingly good. You can lead the characters by using the stylus, which will lead them not only in straight lines but turns as well. Fighting is also controlled by stylus. Depending on where you point the stylus and how long you hold it on the screen, your weapons will perform different kind of attacking moves. There are over 20 skills to choose from and to master depending on the class and experience of your character. The skills include Attack, Axe, Casting, Charm, Picklock, Repair, Search, Sneak, Swimming and Track, etc. There are over 20 rune stones you can use for casting 40 spells. You must have enough spell skill points, Mana potions as well as the runes on the shelf to cast spells.

Music tracks are dramatic and engaging, spooky at times. Sound effects are minimal. The in-game menu allows you to turn them off. The game takes up 14MB memory, supports ARM and MIPS.

All in all, Ultima Underworld is a faithful port of the classic and a worthy RPG game for Pocket PC. If ZIO is betting on as many returned Ultima Underworld veterans as the newcomers to try this game, they might just get their wish. Can this game turn UU into a cult once more? We'll see.

Playing Hints and Tips:
1) Pick up Rune bags and goodie bags so that you can take more rune stones and items by putting them into the bags.
2) Look for levers, unusual patterns on the walls. They might open doors or lead you to secret doors.
3) There are 4 slots for saving a game. Before a major fight, or going into dangerous grounds, make sure you save the game.
4) Don't randomly kill anyone who is mean to you. Talk to them, you just might find that you need these characters alive.
5) If anyone wants to give you a quest, take it. You will be rewarded well.
6 )Pick up anything you come across, even if it's just a piece of wood. Because you might just find an oil flask and bingo, you've got a torch!
7) When you run into characters who can summon monsters to attack you, don't kill them right away. Wait while they summon and keep out of the way. Then kill the monsters they summoned for more points and loot.
8) Know your 8 circles of spells. You will need them not only to fight, but also to get around some really tough environments.
9) I've made a list of some secret doors here (spoiler).

Ultima Underworld screen shot

Ultima Underworld screen shot



Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics The game deserves a lot of credit for keeping the classic PC game's look and feel and making the 3D graphics look good on Pocket PC. The use of the game screen, though faithful to the original, is not efficient: the actual game action takes part in only a portion of the screen.
Sound Great music tracks, but not a huge selection of sound effects.
Fun Meter This game will give you the opportunity to relive the glorious UU days in the palm of your hand. Great depth, large number of characters, items, weapons and spells are the successful ingredients of this RPG hit. I just wish I didn't have to hold the Pocket PC so close to my eyeballs thanks to the small game play action area!
Addictivity With 8 long levels and so many skills and spells to master, along with so many characters to try, this game is easily a sleep killer.

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