Ultima III: Exodus

Ultima IIIThe Game: Darkness has fallen anew upon Sosaria, and Lord British calls for your service again. You set out with four adventurers on a quest to gain the experience that will be necessary to survive the long voyage to a volcanic island where the source of all the evil plaguing the world is said to be. (Sven Carlberg, 2002)

Memories: Programmed as a homebrew project, this unofficial version of Ultima III ports the massive home computer RPG to the Game Boy Color. If even half of the game survives that translation intact, that’s a stupendous achievement. But how does it play?

Ultima IIIThe answer: surprisingly well. If you’ve spent any time with the NES or Sega Master System translations of the Ultima games, you pretty much know what to expect here: the smorgasbord of keyboard-driven options has been gracefully confined to a menu system, which, when called up, will “stop time” long enough for you to make the selection you want. Not all of the available commands fit on a single screen, so all one has to do is punch over to the rest of those commands via the arrow key – a feature that the game’s author says is probably the most misunderstood thing about his port.

But with this supposedly being a port of the Commodore 64 edition of Ultima III, this means that anything you could do on the computer version can be done here. That actually puts this homebrew on a plane above the NES versions, which left stuff out or drastically simplified stuff for the sake of watering things down to a simpler menu system. If you’re looking for an Ultima III port that does everything the computer versions of the same title do, it’s here. On the Game Boy Color. If you can believe that.

Ultima IIIIt also looks and sounds very much like the C64 version. One could argue that the console versions of Ultima III are prettier, their graphics optimized for their respective hardware and tweaked to be acceptable to a post-Legend Of Zelda audience, but this is what the game looked like when I first set eyes on it in the ’80s.

5 quarters!And that brings me to one last point: this homebrew was available for ten years before I’d ever heard of it. Thank goodness. Back in the day, even the Game Boy Color was a huge timesink for me – whole lunch hours would disappear into a game of Monopoly. If I had been aware of this homebrew, and things like flash carts, I never would’ve left the house. Or the bathtub, in all likelihood. It’s that good.