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Missile Command

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Released: 1980

Genre: Shoot-’em-up

Format reviewed: Arcade

Publisher: Atari

Developer: Dave Theurer

Submitted by: Alex Reeves

This classic arcade game from Atari was one of the first to feature a trackball, a kind of large upside-down mouse wheel, to move around the game.

Your mission was to defend 6 cities at the bottom of the screen from attack by missiles raining down from the top of the screen.

You had 3 missile bases from which to launch counter-measures, which destroyed the missiles in mid flight before they could hit your cities, with each missile base having it's own fire button. 

The cursor on the screen controlled where your counter measure would strike, and you had to time firing to ensure the explosion caught the incoming missile in it's halo.

Careful tactics were required to prevent using up your limited supply of ammo, so timing a shot to take out more than one missile was key to getting to the higher levels of the game.  You could also allow a missile to strike a destroyed city and conserve your arsenal.

Destroying all missiles in a wave and keeping at least one city alive would allow you to progress to the next, faster wave.  There was no end to the game, just ever faster and more agressive missile attacks, resulting in some frantic trackball spinning.

One of those simple but maddeningly addictive games, it was transferred to home consoles but never quite the same without the speed and accuracy of the trackball.  Can still be found in the back of the certain arcades, and well worth a 10p investment.

Missile Command

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Released: 1981

Genre: Shoot-’em-up

Format reviewed: Atari 8-bit

Publisher: Atari

Developer: Atari

Submitted by: Anthony Staude

Excellent conversion of the coin-op classic. 

The aim of the game is defend your cities from attacking missiles and bombers using a limited supply of surface-to-air missiles.

The original arcade game featured a wonderful trackball controller to aim your missiles – the Atari 8-bit conversion lets you use a trackball but needs to be enabled from the keyboard using CTRL-T.

The graphics and sound are basic though functionally faithful to the original arcade version. Lines show the path of missiles whilst expanding circles simulate warhead explosions. When your SAM successfully destroys an attacking missile, it in turn explodes. With careful aim, neat chain reaction explosions engulf multiple incoming warheads, especially those pesky MIRVs. Later on smart attacking missiles attempt to dodge your defending SAM explosions requiring even more accurate shooting.

As an arcade conversion, it's not perfect – the biggest difference is that there is only one missile base instead of three – perhaps more a limitation of the available input devices.

There is a clever hack, called Missile Command+ that faithfully reproduces all three bases. See the screenshot.

One of the top ten games for the Atari 8-bit home computers.