Would you like to play a game? Back in the 80s the Cold War was still a very real threat so naturally, the whole global thermonuclear annihilation thing made a fantastic subject for arcade games. Missile Command, released by Atari in 1980, took advantage of the U.S. vs. U.S.S.R. standoff to create a virtual world where missiles were indeed flying fast and furious and only you and your quarters could save the country.
The player was in charge of three different missile silos, located at the left, right and center of the screen. At the bottom of the screen lay six cities under your protection that were the targets of the enemy missiles coming in. Using a Trak-Ball and three fire buttons, you had to get the deadly missiles in your crosshairs and launch your own ICBMs to intercept them.
If you were careless enough to allow a nuclear strike, the city hit went up in a little mushroom cloud and thousands of virtual city-dwellers screamed in horror for about 5 milliseconds. As your stockpile of missiles was limited, extra points were awarded for intercepting enemy missiles quickly and efficiently. If enough points were earned during the level, the player was awarded with more missiles and, occasionally, with the return of a destroyed city, where there was much rejoicing.
The levels got progressively harder with more enemy ICBMs flying toward your cities and silos. Some missiles separated into two, three or more nuclear warheads when they reached a certain height, so you had to take them out early in their trajectory or kiss a city goodbye. There were also “smart” missiles that could evade your attempts to track them and a player had to be darn near psychic to bring down those bad boys.
Missile Command never resulted in victory for the player; the levels got more and more difficult until your side was wiped out. Still, gamers enjoyed the sheer spike in blood pressure and incipient ulcers brought on by Missile Command‘s tense action. The game appeared in various cabinets: stand-up, mini stand-up, table and even a huge, sit-down cockpit, not to mention a successful addition to the Atari 2600 home gaming console. It is rightly regarded as one of the golden oldies of the first arcade era.
If you have fond memories of using a stack of quarters to help defend the planet from an onslaught of aerial attack, we welcome them in our comments section, as we tip our hats to this unforgettable arcade game.