Review By: Jared Black
|# Of Players:||1-2|
|Accessories:||Xbox Live (leaderboards), HDTV 1080i, Dolby 5.1 Surround|
There may not be a game I spent more time with as a child (adulthood is a different story, hello UO!) than Missile Command. Of course, my time was spent with the Atari 2600 version of the game, which was incredibly fun, but unbeknownst to me (this was pre-Internet folks) a watered-down port of the arcade original. In fact, before this Xbox Live re-release, I never realized how different they were. So now I know that, not only was I playing an inferior version as a child, but that I also “broke” the Guinness record (they used to list those things in the book ya know) that was actually set using the much harder arcade version, when I thought I did so while playing at least a pretty accurate port. Fortunately for my slightly bruised ego, the quality of this re-release helps to ease the pain.
The basic principle behind Missile Command is that the player is in charge of defending six of the US' west coast cities from invading alien forces. In this case, these six cities are represented by icons across the bottom of the screen, along with three attack bases. Missile attacks and invading ships come in waves, with it being the player’s job to fend off each wave using those same three attack bases. A different button is used to fire from each base, so the player can simultaneously shoot multiple missiles back at the incoming missiles. Each base only has 10 shots to fire in each round however, so shots must be used conservatively. At the end of each round, the player earns bonus points based on the number of shots and cities left, with the game ending when the player has no cities left at the end of a round.
The key to winning each round is to aim shots slightly in front of where incoming missiles are going to be. Each fired missile explodes as it reaches its destination, leaving behind a short burst of energy that’ll take out any incoming missiles that enter the area. Of course, incoming missiles speed up with each successive wave of attacks, requiring quicker reflexes. It’s there that the game shows its console limitations just a bit unfortunately, due to the controller’s analog stick.
As with other arcade conversions that used a trackball in the arcades, you just don’t get the same level of responsiveness with an analog stick. A trackball not only allowed for stopping on a dime, but also for moving around at varying speeds at a level that the analog stick doesn’t provide. Since the original title was tuned for that level of control, there’s naturally a loss in nimbleness here. As I mentioned before I’ve never actually played Missile Command in the arcade, but I have played trackball titles before, and I noticed a difference even compared to the Atari 2600’s joystick (although that was with a stripped down version of the game of course). Regardless, the game still works well enough with an analog stick (and you can tune the control sensitivity in the options menu), although you old timers may not reach the same levels you did in the arcades. Once you do master it though, this version includes a new Throttle Monkey option that amps the game up to a blistering pace.
To justify the $5 price, the game also includes an Evolved mode. The Evolved mode plays exactly like the original, only with fancy HD graphics. The HD mode is somewhat of a double-edged sword however, as the extra screen space makes it harder to defend the entire screen. Still, I like the new look quite a bit, as it’s clean and functional while adding some pizzazz. In fact, it reminds me a bit of Atari’s own PC remake of Battlezone a few years back. With a title like Missile Command, it wouldn’t have made sense to fill the screen with explosions ala Boom Boom Rocket, because that would’ve made it hard to detect incoming missiles and really changed the core gameplay. The other major change is that the player’s shots have been changed to lightning bolts, which I’m not very fond of but doesn’t really change the game. The music in Evolved mode is fairly generic techno, but works well in the context of the game with its pulsing and constant beats.
Despite the less than optimal controls, Missile Command is one re-release that is worth every bit of its 400 Microsoft Points. The lack of a trackball doesn’t kill the game like it would a title like Rampart, and the Evolved mode is a smart HD upgrade of a true classic that’s very pleasing on the eyes.
Posted: 2007-10-22 19:30:36 PST