A brief history of missile rides

Since time immemorial, mankind has gazed upon missiles and secretly thought, “Hey, that’d be fun to ride.” For whatever perverse reason, the idea of straddling or surfing on what amounts to a blazing rocket engine packed with deadly explosives is wildly fascinating to just about everyone, particularly if someone else does it. Sadly, the experience remains imaginary – but like with every other imaginary experience, videogames excel at delivering it.

Missile riding has a history that predates videogames, though. While most credit the 1964 film Dr. Strangelove and its notorious bomb ride with pioneering the concept, many historians estimate the very first missile ride actually took place sometime around 1800 BCE, when Egyptian sky-god Horus joy-rode through the streets of Thebes to impress his friends.

Above: Thoth, pictured at right, is widely credited with inventing the word ‘BADASS’ to describe the incident 

Since then, the concept was largely restricted to comic books, with indestructible superheroes riding missiles for the sake of splashy cover images.

Above: Images from Comic Coverage

Still, only two forms of media can really imbue the irrational act of missile-riding with the speed and dynamism it deserves, and of those two, only videogames have really bothered. What follows is a quick recounting of the (surprisingly) large handful of times this absurd pastime has lit up our screens over the years.


Year: 1992

Contra III was the first time videogames really paid attention to the idea of riding missiles, and it’s remembered as one of the greatest games of the 16-bit era because of it. After riding down the fourth stage’s alien-infested stretch of desert highway on your hovercycle, a friendly looking chopper swoops down and invites you to climb on with a blinking arrow.

Then, once you’ve taken to the skies and fought off some lame jackass with a jetpack, the missile you were hanging from suddenly detaches and blasts ahead.


Soon, your missile is joined by three others…

... which you’ll be forced to quickly jump to as the rocket you were riding detonates against the ass-end of an alien airship.

What follows is easily the single most kickass battle ever to take place on the Super NES,  as heroes Jimbo and Sully leap frantically between disintegrating missiles while lobbing absurd amounts of firepower at the giant, red sensor the aliens were so kind as to put on the back of their ship.

Then, when it’s all over and the airship detonates in a brilliant flash of nuclear indignance, you find yourself safely back on the chopper that brought you into the air. And on an unfired missile, no less.

This leads us to believe that the “battle” was really all just a dream, and that Jimbo accidentally tore the helicopter a new asshole while dangling, asleep, from the missile.

Why not? It’s not much more ridiculous than anything else that happens in Contra III.


Year: 1994

Not one to let a good concept go to waste, Konami – the same company behind Contra – worked missile-riding into Parodius, its long-running space-shooter parody series, and improved it immeasurably by adding breasts.

See the bunny girl at the lower right? That’s Hikaru, one of the new additions for Gokujou Parodius, the series’ third installment. Along with her friend Akane (who looks exactly like her, but with blond hair and a red costume), she rides through the cosmos on an angry-looking missile, dealing out punishment to flying toys, half-naked women and whatever the hell else it is you fight in Parodius.


Unsurprisingly, the twin missile-riders quickly rose to the forefront of Parodius fandom, and are probably the most instantly recognizable characters for casual fans of the franchise.  

Above: It’s easy to see why. That B-Shot looks wicked 

Honestly, though, as missile-riders go, Hikaru and Akane are among the least impressive practitioners of the art on this list. Then again, take a look at this video of Hikaru in action and tell us if you still care.


Year: 1997

It was a good three years before gamers saw another missile ride, but while heroine Marina Liteyears might have been a completely badass goat-legged robotic maid, her missile-surfing technique left something to be desired. A few chapters into the game, the Missile Surf level forced her to navigate a slow-moving rocket past assorted obstacles, which she did by shifting her weight to make the missile change direction.

It didn’t really deliver the things we’ve come to associate with missile surfing, like ridiculous speed and balls-to-the-wall danger. But on the other hand, all your enemies are also riding missiles, so we’ll let this one slide, Liteyears.

Above: Also it’s an awesome game in general, so we can’t really fault it 


Year: 2001

Four years down the road, and the missile-riding fad appeared dead. Well, except for a few cursory appearances in Sonic Adventure 2, wherein Sonic used these little jet things to get around:

There was one other missile ride in the game, and while it was short, it was significant, because it expanded the idea of missile riding beyond the narrow constraints of straddling, surfing or clutching a modestly sized rocket. Not one to be tied down by such limitations, Sonic latched on to what appeared to be a full-sized ICBM:

Which then launched, shattering the scaffolding that had surrounded it seconds earler.

After that, we got a good look at Sonic clinging, apparently unconcerned, to the side of the rocket as it jetted into the stratosphere.

After only a few seconds of flight, though, Sonic let go and plummeted back to earth to seek adventure elsewhere.

Above: Apparently he had plans with Big the Cat and Shadow to go shoot at some fish while riding hoverboards with their adopted Chao wards 

It was disappointingly short, but no less epic for its briefness. It also opened the door for other, more thorough explorations of the “giant rocket” theme down the road, which we’ll get to in a bit.


  • lovinmyps3 - August 19, 2009 9:52 p.m.

    Missle Rides?!?! Random much? Lol
  • CountFenring - August 19, 2009 9:52 p.m.

    I thought you ran on the inside of the missile in Sonic. It might be something else, but I remember running on the inside of a missile like thing in a GameCube game.
  • killerwhalen - August 19, 2009 10:06 p.m.

    This is one awesome article. And it's always good to get a Chilli Con Carnage reference.
  • _D-Man_ - August 19, 2009 10:23 p.m.

  • iJizzLots - August 19, 2009 10:30 p.m.

    No love for Megaman Zero? forgot which one, i presum its 3 or 4... a whole level was you INSIDE a missle. still, awesome list. 'specially enjoyed contra 3, that leve made no sense whatsoever, but man was it epic
  • husk94 - August 19, 2009 10:50 p.m.

    the jak 3 rocket ride waas AWWWWsome
  • norid - August 19, 2009 11:01 p.m.

    haha the pic of gir was awesome
  • EliteDog - August 19, 2009 11:09 p.m.

    YEEE HAAAWWW! ...sorry.
  • adadadad - August 19, 2009 11:25 p.m.

  • FETALJUICE - August 19, 2009 11:30 p.m.

    The Contra series will always remain the undisputed king of missile rides. lol
  • michaelmcc827 - August 19, 2009 11:50 p.m.

    well that was fun.
  • rxb - August 19, 2009 11:51 p.m.

    Amazing article, never would have thought the history of missile rides would be so deep. The DMC3 one has to be the funniest. The anime project Ako also has a cool missile ride sence.
  • Ninja-KiLLR - August 20, 2009 12:20 a.m.

    snake truly is the legendary soldier if he can do that move
  • Curtis_Stone - August 20, 2009 12:25 a.m.

    Contra/Konami really loves their missile riding... reCAPTCHA: "Olyphant seriously"
  • drprofessor - August 20, 2009 12:43 a.m.

    What about snakes from Battle Toads? anyway great article. love gamesradar.
  • sgloomy - August 20, 2009 1:25 a.m.

    i used to have that pig riding thing at the end as my background,ah, good memories!!!! but seriously, where do you guys even come up with these awesome ideas? i have a feeling it happens the same way that Matt Stone and Trey Parker came up with Towlie....
  • WeaselWithAGun - August 20, 2009 1:57 a.m.

    I'm so glad to see Jak3 in gamesradar. This just made my week!
  • Cyberninja - August 20, 2009 2:21 a.m.

    ok didnot know you could use pigs from invader zim like missiles
  • Dill - August 20, 2009 2:29 a.m.

    What a beast article. It's got so many screenshots! Great work, I can see the time spent on this... FeedbacK::I laughed at the games I recognized and read everything about them. Otherwise, I just looked at the photos.
  • Hurricrane - August 20, 2009 3:04 a.m.

    the Ninja Blade pics just made me laugh nonstop... great idea GR

Showing 1-20 of 68 comments

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