by Atari

"The colonies are in trouble! Unknown aliens and foreign countries are trying to destroy your cities and take over the world. Your job is to protect your citizens from hostile enemy attacks. Fire-breathing dragons, electric eels and menacing motherships will try to stop you. But you've got missiles, lasers and smart bombs to hold off the enemy and keep your cities from becoming alien neighborhoods. Original Missile Command, 3D Missile Command and Virtual Missile Command are all waiting for your help to keep their worlds safe."

Yes, this is the premise of the second in Atari's line of classic game updates for the Jaguar, Missile Command 3D. Just as the intro in the instruction manual says, there are three games inside this Jaguar cartridge: Original Missile Command, 3D Missile Command and Virtual Missile Command. While Virtual Missile Command was supposed to work with the Jaguar VR Headset (vaporware), instead of cancelling the cartridge along with the headset, Atari still released Missile Command 3D (MC3D). Let's start at the beginning with the original.

A decade and a half ago, Atari engineers designed one of the best videogames of all-time: Missile Command. You commanded three missile bases and protected six cities against alien missile attacks. The arcade version of the game used the Atari Trak-Ball to control the cursor for aiming your missiles, and that is the first problem with any home conversion: joysticks and joypads just don't have the feel of the Trak-Ball.

Still, the Jaguar joypad or Pro Controller has decent cursor response despite the lack of Trak-Ball control. And with the three fire buttons on the Jaguar controller, you can easily launch missiles from any of your three bases. Unfortunately, the original version on this cart is not all that well-done.

To start with, the sounds and screen colors don't change in the same pattern as the arcade version, and after awhile, the screen just remains the same color. Even the Atari 2600 version continued to cycle through all the various colors. In addition, it seems almost as if Original Missile Command was thrown in as an afterthought after Atari cancelled the headset rather than being an integral part of the cartridge (judging by the graphics and sounds which don't live up to the arcade version).

However, while it may not be perfect, I find myself playing more Original Missile Command than the other two games on the cartridge combined! There are some nice touches to it, such as the way you can choose to play it in a full-screen mode, or to play it on an Atari Lynx screen, a TV Set screen or an arcade cabinet screen. Now don't get the idea you can plug this cart into your Lynx! What I mean is that you can change the view on the screen to make it look like you're playing the game on a Lynx, or you can make it show you an arcade cabinet and even rotate it up and down and side to side. You really have to see it to appreciate it!

My particular MC3D cartridge resets the high scores every so often, even though I don't ask it to. It's kind of annoying getting a really high score, only to pop in the cart the next day and see that the score is no longer there. Furthermore, some people have experienced difficulties playing MC3D on certain older Jaguar units, which makes me wonder about how thoroughly Atari tested MC3D before release.

Moving on now to 3D Missile Command, it's basically the original version with a huge 3D playfield and some snazzy new graphics. It's easily the most boring game on the cartridge. Sure, at first it's nice to look at and kind of cool to check out the lens flare you see when looking up toward the sun, and see the cool explosions and all. But, once you grow tired of the eye candy, 3D Missile Command is nothing more than a weak attempt at a more modern-looking Original Missile Command. Brian Bessemer recommends playing this game first when you pick up MC3D. That's not a bad idea, because you will enjoy the updated graphics, and probably want to move on to the other games rather quickly. To be honest, I've only played 3D Missile Command a handful of times since it just doesn't keep my interest.

Still, that doesn't mean there isn't a good, updated version of Original Missile Command on the cart. That's where Virtual Missile Command comes in. It was intended for use with the Jaguar VR Headset that Virtuality was developing, but that was scrapped. Once you play Virtual Missile Command, you'll see how good it could have been with the headset. That's not to say it's bad without the headset, in fact it's quite good.

Instead of seeing your missile bases and cities lined up horizontally at the bottom of the screen, you are now viewing the action first-person from inside one of the missile bases. Through your "window", you can see the other bases and cities, and when you press up on the joypad, you actually look up and see the missiles coming down at you and your cities and bases.

When you start the game, you are based underwater, and the sounds and graphics are very convincing indeed. Besides shooting at incoming missiles, there are also powerups to collect that offer you everything from city repairs to smart bombs. The smart bombs come in very handy at the end of each level when you face level bosses that range from a giant spaceship that looks like something out of the movie "Independence Day", to a yellow and black-striped Electric Eel.

After completing three underwater levels and beating three underwater bosses, you move up above the sky to a cloud city. The premise of the game remains the same, but the perspective is now back above-ground, and the level bosses and enemies are more ruthless than the ones underwater. If you can manage to complete all three cloud city levels, you end up in outer space taking on even greater challenges in a space city. If you are playing the game on the "easy" difficulty, you can't get to outer space: the game ends earlier. However, if you are playing it on "normal" or "hard", you can go all the way.

Virtual Missile Command is certainly the most innovative game on the cart, and is really the reason why MC3D is worth $50 or more. 3D Missile Command, while not bad, just isn't all that fulfilling. And if you're anything like me, you'll end up spending half your time playing Original Missile Command and pretending you're still 11 years old!

While the Jaguar may not have lived up to the promise many of us saw in the system, games like Missile Command 3D, Tempest 2000 and Defender 2000 make it worth owning. Here's to hoping that Atari can do us all a favor and find a way to release Breakout 2000. That would be a fitting ending to the Atari brand name if indeed the end is here.

Title Missile Command 3D
Publisher Atari
System Atari Jaguar
Graphics 8
Sound 7
Gameplay 8
Replay Value 8
Overall 8
Reviewer Patrick Holstine

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