Missile Commander Nukes Retro Nostalgia [Review]

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I’ll be honest: Missile Command was never my favorite classic game from the glory days of Atari. Originally released as a coin-op in 1980, designed by Dave Theurer (the man who also created Tempest and the world’s first commercial game to feature 3-D polygonal graphics, I, Robot), Missile Command came straight out of an era in which the scariest thing imaginable was a nuclear attack.

Missile Commander by FOR neXtSoft
Category: iOS Games
Works With: iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch
Price: $1.99

The game puts you in control of three anti-air missile batteries, as you defend cities from being destroyed by an endless hail of ballistic missiles. Like every game of its era, Missile Command didn’t have fancy graphics to carry it: it had to make do with limited processing power and graphical/audio capabilities by crafting a playing experience simple and fun enough to keep you pumping quarters into the arcade.

If I had a criticism of the original Missile Command, it was that — while it nailed the simple, pick-up-and-play quality of its contemporaries — it never really had the strategy part down. Other games let you improve your skills in a way that felt rewarding. With Missile Command, a good game always felt a lot like a bad one: basically reliant on luck.

With that said, I was excited to play Missile Commander (the two extra letters suggest that this isn’t strictly speaking an official version of the Atari original). I love a good bit of retro gaming, and iOS devices — being perfect for the kind of brief, frantic gaming bursts that once belonged in the video arcade — are a superb way of rediscovering the titles you grew up with.

A good game [always feels] a lot like a bad one: basically reliant on luck.

Sadly I was disappointed. The iOS version (an OS X version is available, although I didn’t play it) is fiddly to play, with unresponsive controls that are far from intuitive. The graphics and interface are the kind of the thing you’d expect to find on a “100 Games” shareware disk for the PC, circa 1996, and pose the question of why you would go for a presentation style that feels neither befitting the game’s roots, or modern and up-to-date.

That’s really the problem with Missile Commander in a nutshell.

With a bit of loving care, the core concept behind Missile Command could have been updated (if that was the developer’s idea) with some twenty-first century flair. Sure, I may not have been the biggest Missile Command fan around, but I’m willing to accept that a game still around after more than thirty years has a certain quality that makes attracts gamers. Sadly, this is bare minimum stuff — and as such it’s difficult to recommend.

I’m sure there are fans of the original Missile Command who will get more of a kick out of this than I did, but monotonous gameplay, uninspired graphics and repetitive sounds make Missile Commander a pretty difficult experience to get into.

Less blow up, than blow out really.

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Game Name:
Missile Commander
The Good: The game it’s based on is considered a classic from video games’ Golden Age.
The Bad: Controls are rubbish, graphics are shoddy.
The Verdict: Disappointing. Like putting your pocket money into a coin-op arcade, only to find that it’s been swallowed without giving you a game.
Buy from: App Store

Cult of Mac rating: 2/5

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About the author

Luke DormehlLuke Dormehl is a UK-based journalist and author, with a background working in documentary film for Channel 4 and the BBC. He is the author of The Formula: How Algorithms Solve All Our Problems, And Create More and The Apple Revolution, both published by Penguin/Random House. His tech writing has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, Techmeme, and other publications. He'd like you a lot if you followed him on Twitter.

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