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Missile Command (Atari 2600, 1981)

Run Jump Shoot #18 - Missile Command  (Atari 2600, 1981)

By Nathan Meunier

October 8, 2008 - Some folks may begin to notice a common theme in my discussion of early arcade games and Atari hits spawned from them. Designed to rapidly suck down your quarters, quite a few of these games were never meant to be beaten - at least not by humans it seems. As a result, the difficulty of these games is meager in the first level or so, but they catapult speedily into ridiculousness the further one delves into them. This made them fun and frustrating for players and profitable for publishers. Missile Command is yet another one of those killer Atari apps that toys with you for a few levels, before ultimately crushing you beneath a never-ending volley of incoming fire.

The scenario in the original Missile Command was such that players were free to assign any sort of story to the gameplay. For all we knew, it could have been Ronald Reagan's proposed Star Wars program gone awry. The Atari 2600 version clarifies this ambiguity by adding mention of a war unfolding between the interplanetary invading forces of Krytol and the defending planet of Zardon.

Run Jump Shoot #18 - Missile Command  (Atari 2600, 1981)

Your six bases are prone to erupting in small mushroom cloud explosions with each direct hit made by the streaking missiles dropping down continuously from the heavens. The missile defense station in the center of the cluster has finite ammo, and well timed shots are required to take out the incoming ballistics rockets. This becomes increasingly tougher to pull off, as the speed of the incoming munitions increases and some even split off into multiple smaller clusters that cascade in different directions.

The thought of real missiles rocketing down overhead is a little jarring, and the game has an eerie relevance, given the current atmosphere of instability and conflict in the world. Let's hope we can leave the firestorm in the gaming world. I prefer my missile deflection in 8-bits or less.

By Nathan Meunier
CCC Staff Contributor / Pixel Artist

Missile Command  (Atari 2600, 1981) Screenshot

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