Atari hasn’t actually been Atari for a long while now, but the publisher still knows its bread and butter: the classic arcade properties that ruled the video gaming industry from on high in the 1970s and 80s. It contracted Griptonite Games to resurrect Missile Command on the iPhone, and it turns out to have been a wise choice. The developer’s done a great job refitting Missile Command’s presentation for a new generation, while including the old-timey version from 1980 for purists, too.
The original Missile Command came out at a time when the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan, Ronald Reagan was headed for the Oval Office, and the Cold War was heating back up; although the Strategic Defense Initiative was still several years off, the American defense establishment started to wonder if its lead in missile defense technologies would enable the U.S. to “win” a total nuclear war against the USSR.
Perhaps Missile Command was designed to inform the public that this was a fool’s errand. There’s no winning in Missile Command. The goal is merely to preserve your six cities for as long as possible by shooting a rain of warhead out of the sky, before they reach the ground and inaugurate Stone Age–The Sequel. You simply touch the screen to target and launch an interceptor missile, one at a time or in multiples. However, your rockets aren’t guided, so you have to aim at where the target warhead is going, not at where it’s been. Successfully intercepting a warhead produces a larger explosion that can catch other warheads, generating a chain reaction and racking up point multipliers. You must be careful with your supply of interceptors, though: you only get 36 per level (12 for each of your three launchers), and if you run out in the middle of a salvo, you’re defenseless.
Just as missile defense is not a casual subject, Missile Command is not really a casual game. This is true even on the easy difficulty setting, although the game is nice enough to automatically select the closest missile launcher when you fire an interceptor. On the normal and hard modes, you have to switch manually, or you’ll end up trying to shoot with an empty launcher. The game also ramps up the challenge level very quickly. In addition to dealing with more missiles, they start to split up in mid-air, so you have to catch them earlier; there are also smart bombs that you must nail with perfect accuracy to kill, as well as various types of bombers that strafe across the screen.
For Missile Command’s updated Ultra mode, Griptonite replaced the original’s grim Cold War scenario with a sci-fi theme; you’re now protecting domed cities on the Moon (and elsewhere) from glowing alien plasma bombs. The new graphics are quite attractive, although it seems to us that the game plays a little differently–the missiles aren’t as fast and the explosions aren’t as big, for instance. We also like the crisp new sound effects and gloomy, atmospheric music. The Classic version looks and sounds just like the arcade original, which is as it should be.
Overall, we think Missile Command is a decent buy at $4.99, especially for those who already know and like the gameplay. There are a few things the developer could do to improve the game’s value, like adding online scores and introducing a true “casual” mode, but the game gets our recommendation nonetheless.