Embrace the Atari Nostalgia
Few memories surpass those summers spent with my grandfather and great grandfather in Texas. Starting around the age of nine, I would go visit for 1-2 weeks during the summer. We would have a big family breakfast, would head out to any number of homes that they were remodeling, and then we would work until the heat of the day became unbearable. If the home had AC, we would work indoors. If not, we would return to their warehouse and rest for a few hours until it cooled off. During these times, I was able to play one of their two arcade cabinets, “Missile Command” and “Tempest.” With unlimited quarters, responsive buttons, and a trackball, I became quite good at the games. In fact, while they handled phone business, I lost many hours and layers of skin to those games. Sadly, about a decade ago, the warehouse suffered a catastrophic fire and it was a total loss.
It is a shame that many modern youths may grow up without experiencing an arcade experience like those of the 1980s and 1990s. Gone are the hangouts, meeting up with friends to challenge them to a variety of coin-op games, and placing your quarter for the next round. Games advanced, home consoles took over and we moved from the Atari, to the Nintendo, to the Sega, to the Xbox and Playstation and through a variety of upgrades. Games moved online and physical hangouts were replaced with artificial zones. Now, more than a simple D-pad and an A+B button to control, it often feels that one would need fifteen fingers per hand to remain competitive. With virtual consoles, emulators, and advances in smartphone technology, many retro games have returned to the forefront of society.
I was recently perusing the iOS App Store and noticed “Missile Command Recharged.” I quickly read through several of the reviews and decided to download the free app. When you open the App, you will see a classic white Atari Logo upon a vivid red screen, a secondary NICKERVISION Studios “Live, Die, Retry” panel and then the main Missile Command Recharged screen. As ballistic missiles rain from above, missiles launch from the bottom of the screen to destroy the incoming artillery. Along the top left of the screen, you will find the Achievement/leaderboard/Challenges icon. Along the bottom left of the screen, you will find the “Rate Us” icon. Along the top right, you will find the “AR” icon (more below), and along the bottom right you will find the infinite charge in-App purchase. Along the middle of the screen, you can tap start to begin to play or you can tap “options.” Within the options menu, you can change the language (English + nine others), toggle sound on/off, music on/off, vibrate on/off and restore purchases. If you tap the little battery along the bottom of the screen, you will navigate to a subsequent screen with a blue and green octagon. If you tap the blue (left). “Watch Video to Overcharge,” you can watch a 30-second video for 3 more lives. If you tap the green “Infinite Charge” icon, you can pay $2.99 USD to avoid needing to recharge (more below).
When ready to begin, tap the start button. The game will present you with six boxy cities and three missile turrets. Missiles will rain down from above and you will need to lead the missiles with your own missiles to destroy them. The touch screen was very responsive and I found myself quickly killing 25 point missiles, larger 50 point splitting missiles, 100 point missile dropping satellites, and bonus cubes (rapid-fire, mega shot, bomb, chain, base shields). If the missile hits a base, it is destroyed, if it hits a missile turret, it will be destroyed but has the chance of rebuilding. Once all of your turrets are destroyed, your cities become sitting ducks and will soon succumb to the volley of missiles. At the end of your mission, you can choose to upgrade your missile command, restart or navigate back. Within the upgrade tab, you can spend points to upgrade Power, Reload, Speed, and Rebuild. The power option increases the diameter of your missile explosion. The reload increases the rate of fire, the speed increases the velocity of the missile and rebuild helps to auto-rebuild downed turrets. I found speed, power, and reload were the most important of the three to spend points on. If close, save you points another round and then return when able to upgrade your command. The auto-Rebuild feature took too long to provide more than a modicum of benefit and I kept it at a lower level.
When you play your three lives, you will have to wait twenty minutes to regenerate new ones. If interested in continuous play, you can tap the battery icon on the home screen to watch a “Raid Shadow Legends”game movie to gain 3 lives, or you can pay the nearly $3 to get unlimited recharges. Since you can watch the same movie back to back, you can overcharge your life counter and gain a near unlimited source of lives anyway. I am not certain that you gain any added benefits beyond the lives and I seriously question why anyone would buy the in-App purchase. The Missile Command game has no levels, no ability to pause, and no real objectives other than to survivive. In between missions, you can spend points to upgrade your abilities. I quickly played enough times to power up to Power:5, Reload 4, Speed 5, rebuild 2. As you upgrade the abilities, the cost to reach the next tier increases further. Play a few rounds, save up points, spend them on upgrades, and repeat.
Similar to several of the reviews on the iOS App Store, I immediately noticed that the game lacked some of the original trackball nostalgia. Although responsive to touch, the AI often stupidly sent missiles from the farthest turret. With upgraded reload and speed, this did not matter near as much. However, early in the game, the lackluster AI may lead to your early demise. By the time you reach the fifth level upgrade (50,000 points), it will start to feel a lot like grinding. A few minutes will turn into an hour, which will then turn into several sessions before you can upgrade enough to get to higher levels. Interestingly, the restore purchase button did not reset the upgrade levels. The game provided a nonstop touch-screen missile blitz unto your total destruction. Similar to the 1980s game, and the Kobayashi Maru there is no winning scenario to this game. The original game provided a limited salvo of missiles and you had to strategically choose your targets and which cities would survive. Without the ability to choose which turret you fire from, without level markers, the game lacked some of the sentiment of its predecessor.
As a free game, it is definitely worth a play. The included AR mode opened up an interesting avenue of gaming. Activate the mode, place the virtual gaming cabinet and play the game as above. After a few rounds of AR Missile Command, I returned to the regular App. The game will continue to escalate the difficulty until your cities and turrets are destroyed. I liked the music and sound effects and nearly felt the same magic as the original arcade game. Once you have fully upgraded, you will have likely maxed-out all of the in-App achievements and there really is not much left to play for besides a higher place on the leaderboard. The game needs new modes, new upgrades, new maps/levels and simply more to be more than a quick download and delete. Perhaps future upgrades will add a little more of the Atari magic to this game. For now, it will provide a few minutes of enjoyment here and there. To gain replayability, it will need more than 5 levels of upgrades, a single map, and an endless mode. I would rate it at ~8/10 stars in its current state. With added modes, challenges, and perhaps limited ammo, the game could be truly magical.