Few videogames these days are as gut-wrenchingly demoralizing, as nerve-shreddingly difficult, or as mind-dominatingly compelling as the 1980 classic Missile Command, which just hit Xbox LIVE Arcade for a mere 400 points. The most violent game of connect-the-dots ever, it puts you in charge of defending a row of six cities from a never-ending, zig-zagging deluge of missiles, smart bombs, and enemy aircraft that rain from the sky like dollar bills at a Vegas strip club.
Luckily, you’ve got the tools to get the job done: three missile silos, placed left, right, and center, each with ten missiles that will zoom to wherever you’ve placed your cursor and then explode in a circular cloud of death that will wipe out any enemy warhead or plane it touches. Each silo also has a separate fire button, which is important because the shorter distance a missile has to travel to get to its target, the more quickly it will get there. The center launcher’s missiles travel faster, too.
And that’s it. Your job is to watch the bad guys’ shots rain down and intercept them with your own to keep your cities (and also your own missile turrets) from destruction. Naturally, it sounds easier than it is, but it taps into that sense of machismo and manly power found in the most explosive action movies. You find yourself desperately attached to your cities (especially the two closest to the center, hint, hint) and howling at the betrayal when a missile feigns one way, then branches into three separate shots aimed toward three different targets, or when a smart bomb sneakily jitters on the edge of an explosion, but does not die.
Folks who played the arcade original will miss the trackball controller, for sure. And the original version’s graphics are so primitive by today’s standards that they look art-deco. But we loved the new-look Evolved skin of the game, which recasts the cities as gleaming metal futureplexes in a constantly shifting desertscape and your missile silos as turrets that shoot lightning. The blast patterns of the lightning are less obvious, but you’ll quickly become accustomed to it.
Or you’ll die. The only possible “don’t-buy” concern in Missile Command is that, like fellow old-school, arcade quarter munchers Robotron and Defender, it’s relentlessly, almost brutally difficult. It’s a bit odd that the Atari 2600 version had adjustable difficulty 25 years ago, but this version doesn’t. You will find some nice multiplayer action though, and at five bucks, this is a no-brainer.