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Missile Command - The Atari Times

Missile Command

The ultimate nightmare, but made into an ultimate positive
by Darryl Brundage

November 13, 2003
Oh no...oh no...oh NO...OH MY GOD!

You've got a panicky feeling raging inside you. You're sweating. Your heart is pounding and you're feeling very disoriented, hopeless and lost. You're:

a) a chainsmoker who found out that the tax of cigarettes has been raised AGAIN; sheesh! Why doesn't Congress just let me slowly kill myself in peace, dang it?

b) Anna Nicole Smith running after an ice cream truck.

c) the DRIVER of the above truck after seeing Anna Nicole in the rear-view mirror; curse her! Curse her, and her little dog too!

d) newly awakened from having a nightmare.

Ok, so all of the answers could go with the question, I suppose, but d is the one that has to do with my review of Missile Command.

See, the creator of Missile Command based this on a nightmare he had about nuclear war, which proves you can make a positive out of a negative. Missile Command is anything but scary, though -- unless you count the very horrid games that Data Age had the nerve to release for the Atari 2600, except for Frankenstein's Monster -- it's actually a lot of fun!

Instead of the later Populous-type games where you have to save everything by planting crops and building houses for people and all, here you just go straight up on the defense side to preserve everything. There are six cities to protect from incoming missiles, with two missile bases on the bottom sides of the screen (Alpha and Omega bases), each containing a stockpile of 10 missiles. They travel relatively slow when launched, so it's best to position your cursor in front of an incoming enemy missile, so by the time your missile detonates, it will intercept the enemy missile with a nice little expanding cloud of death (hey, I want something similar added to my car for the next time some idiot tailgates me).

Running out of these missiles, though, is no biggie, since you also have a third base in the middle at your disposal (Delta), which is loaded with 10 very quick-firing missiles. These are best saved for last and/or emergencies, since things can get pretty intense, as you're defending the not-so-friendly skies.

The skies are filled with potential destruction, with oncoming missiles, which some look like they could be easy to destroy with just one shot, although the enemy is cunning, since, at times, one seemingly single streak of missile could branch off into three or more missiles (all riding piggyback, or something?), all heading in separate directions. Planes and satellites also start appearing not long into a game, and they can drop their share of missiles as well, and after a while, there are cruise missiles that are very difficult to destroy, as they can anticipate your missile launches (this is when it's best to use your fast-firing central base missiles) and avoid them as they make a quick beeline for your cities and missile bases.

So there's the problem: you have six cities to defend, and if all of them are destroyed, not only is the property value of them going to plummet to probably zero, but the game will end, unless you have scored 10,000 or a multitude of such, which you'll get a city back then (which you get a bonus at the end of every wave for any remaining missiles and cities that you have). If an enemy missile hits one of your bases, you will also lose whatever missiles are remaining at that base ("all your base's missiles are belong to the enemy"?). Use 'em, defend 'em or lose 'em, guys!

No problem is the control and sounds, though: they're excellent, due to the trak-ball, which was one of the better video game inventions EVER, in my opinion. You also have three buttons, one for each missile base to launch from, which is one of the many things that made Missile Command unique in it's day. The graphics weren't that great, though, especially these so-called "cities" that looked more like mountains to me...ok! However, with the enemy bombardment quickly coming in faster than those tons of Verizon "can you hear me now?" ads on TV (and they're just as lethal; yeech), you're not really going to notice.

This game was really amazing for me to watch an expert player go at it, since, once the going got really fast and rough, a lot of people could spread a wall of missiles across the screen and take care of the enemy that way, having a game that could literally go on for millions (and many hours) of points. Atari even gave gamers a break, too: in between 810,000 and 1,000,000 points, if you lose all of your cities, even if you don't have any in reserve, the game will continue anyway. However, there were probably chips distributed where this is changed, so it probably depends on the machine you're playing. I never could do that well, though.

Missile Command's legacy continues today, due to seeing some M.C.-type games online, and plus Atari released it all over the place for home consoles, like for the 2600 (I still have my copy of it), the 5200 and the Atari Home Computer line, and as for the more modern releases, it's even been on Gameboy compilations and an updated version for the Atari Jaguar as well, plus Atari also came out with the arcade game Liberator, which was pretty much Missile Command in space, which was a pretty cool game, which you can also
see a review of it on this site.

So, sometimes nightmares can be a good thing...after all, without a certain nightmare of a sphere chasing movie director Don Coscarelli around, we would have none of the interesting and original Phantasm horror movies to see, and there would be no Missile Command and Liberator games to play.

And missing those (above) elements from my life WOULD be a nightmare indeed.

Now, if I could just somehow profit from my recurring nightmare of a manic sheep chasing me on it's hind legs with a chainsaw while wearing a beenie and pantyhose (don't ask), things would be good.

It's the end of the world!
These early levels are incredibly easy.
This is a blanket technique to protect your cities.
Aw crap...
Missile Command
System: Arcade
Publisher: Atari
Genre: Shooter
Graphics Score: 65%
Sound & Music Score: 90%
Gameplay Score: 85%
Control Score: 100%

Final Score: 85%

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