Nick DeMarco

TURN TO CHANNEL 3: Atari’s ‘Missile Command’ is a blocky blast from gaming’s past

TURN TO CHANNEL 3: Atari’s ‘Missile Command’ is a blocky blast from gaming’s past
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To me, one of the greatest things about video games are those moments and games that unite us, those titles that are still undeniably good and fun to play now, some three decades plus later.

This month on Turn to Channel 3, we’re going to take a look at a few of these fine specimens in a month dedicated to the Atari 2600, a console that is still in high demand at my shop in Mayfield, along with a library of games that, for better or for worse, gave birth to some of our earliest gaming memories.

This week, we begin with a game that tore up the arcades and made it to the Atari 2600 with all the momentum of a portion of its namesake – “Missile Command!”

“Missile Command” (Atari 2600, 1981)


For as limited as technology was at the time (we’re talking nearly 40 years ago!), the sound effects in “Missile Command” are among the best on the Atari 2600. While some games had little songs that would play, “Missile Command’s” aura and ambience is built solely on the grit and danger of the situation you are put in: saving cities from impending doom via missiles that descend from the skies. As each missile roars to life, you are shooting them out of the sky, and each pleasing explosion hopefully leads you to the next level, as your defense is counted with your cities still standing.

I still find the sound effects at the end of each round a true snapshot of my childhood. While I was not born yet when “Missile Command” debuted (I came into this world a year later), it still played a huge role in my early days of gaming. “Missile Command” was my first real challenge, my first real quest through the mid-‘80s gaming universe, and those sound effects take me right back.


You would think that it wouldn’t be too difficult to replicate arcade graphics at this point in time, as things weren’t that advanced yet, but still, the 2600, like all home consoles at the time, had limitations that the company’s own arcade cabinets did not. Still, as far as home conversions go, “Missile Command” is among the better examples of this for the era. When a company like Atari makes the worst version of “Pac-Man” ever created, “Missile Command” teaches you to appreciate their work.

These are very basic graphics. It’s blocky, so you have to use your imagination as you defend cities against missiles and what seems to be a UFO or something of the sort that periodically makes an appearance. What is most impressive, however, is the increasing speed of the missiles that cause absolutely no lag or slowdown in the game.


There are plenty of games on the Atari 2600 that truly embody the fun and spirit of the console as well as the early 1980s era of gaming, and “Missile Command” is definitely among them. This is a game for both diehard fans of the Atari brand and casual gamers who may not have grown up with it and want to discover it for the first time. I still see parents purchasing a console from us and picking up some extra games with this title always among their choices, and for good reason.

“Missile Command,” pardon the pun, is still an absolute blast to play, with the only goal being that elusive high score, something that has nearly gone the way of the dodo bird in today’s gaming landscape, and yet it’s still something that we crave, especially in games that shaped our childhoods. Challenging, frustrating at times, and addictively fun, “Missile Command” still brings folks to the woodgrain box of fun that is the Atari 2600.


If you are looking to revisit the 1980s gaming landscape, relive your childhood, and pass that joy along to your children, then “Missile Command” is definitely a title you want in your Atari 2600 library. For the cost of food off a dollar menu (or less if you find it at a yard sale or flea market), it is an inexpensive blast from the past that will keep you coming back for more. The endearing spirit of games like “Missile Command” is undeniable, and you’ll be doing your inner child a favor by taking a trip back for some simple but thrilling fun!

Well, that does it for me. Join me next time as we head from the missile command center to the jungles and oceans of another coin-op-turned-home-console-favorite – “Jungle Hunt!”

Until then, enjoy the nice weather, but do yourself a favor and make some time to game on!

Tune in to NEPA Scene’s gaming column, Turn to Channel 3, every Thursday for new perspectives on retro gaming as well as fresh twists on the classics from the owner of Nick D’s Video Game Vault in Mayfield. All ratings for Turn to Channel 3 are based on a scale of 1-10.