Since I haven't played the arcade machine for some years, and only own an unboxed copy for my Atari 2600, I am a little unsure of the story. It's basically you against alien invaders (like Space Invaders). However, unlike in Space Invaders, you seem to be in a kind of gun turret, protecting the Earth's great cities. You do this by firing missiles at the invading missiles to stop them reaching the cities. Not the greatest of stories, but it's only an Atari 2600 game, and the story doesn't really matter when the game plays so well.
Now living in the day and age we do now (2002) it would seem a bit silly to compare this game (from 1980) to the latest PC or PS2 releases. So I will compare it to the rest of my Atari 2600 collection (about 30 - 40 games). While the graphics lack any real polish or depth to them, they do suit the job perfectly. They are also nowhere near as bad as some of the games I have seen on the Atari 2600. The graphics have a lot of mixed colours on them (especially the incoming missiles) and can look colourful at times. The background and the cities you are protecting also change colour as you progress, sometimes they look good, sometimes bad. The graphics in Missile Command will not set the world alight in terms of Atari 2600 graphics but I would still put them as above average.
The lovely collection of explosion noises and firing noises are recreated brilliantly on the Atari 2600. The beep noises made by the enemy missiles and the explosion noises created afterwards are brilliant and really inspire the game. However, there is a lack of music (Something many Atari 2600 games are without) and this may put off some people. However once you hear those sounds you will wonder where the games been all your life. The sound also can drive you, making you want to play through the game, complete it and rejoice! Definitely one of the stronger sounding games of the Atari 2600, and I recommend it to anyone just to listen to the sound.
I am unfortunately not able to tell you first hand how this plays properly, because I don't own a trackball. However if it's anything like the arcade version (and I'm guessing it is) then I wholeheartedly recommend it to all that owns a trackball for the Atari 2600. Now onto the majority of people slaving away like me on the controller. People may now be thinking that playing with the controller is a negative thing, and not worth buying. Yet me tell you that you are wrong, because playing with the normal joystick adds to the experience. It is much harder to control it with the joystick, and this can make you a much better player. If you want to get onto the harder levels than you must practice and learn how to play well. Whatever method of control you decide to use with Missile Command, I guarantee you will be most happy, and be able to get onto the much harder stages (some of them are nigh on impossible with the joystick). I would say that control is again another high point of Missile Command, and can even add to the original arcade experience.
This is the most important aspect of any game, on any system. Never mind how good graphics you have, or how good the sound is. Even today, with the 3D mega games, some are universally slammed because of the way they play. Now we go onto how Missile Command plays on the Atari 2600. We know the arcade version rocks, but how does it compare on the 2600. I have to say it is one of the best arcades to console conversions ever in terms of gameplay. Missile Command plays like a dream. In fact it's better than that. This is my favourite Atari 2600 game ever, simply because of the way it plays.
Missile Command is one of the best games available on the Atari 2600. The sound, gameplay and control are all near enough perfect for the game, while the graphics also suit the game, but are not quite as spectacular. This has to be one of the best arcade conversions on the Atari 2600, and one of the best games available on the format. The remake on the PC and PSX failed miserably, so I'm still waiting for the true sequel. If you like shoot 'em ups and don't have this game I highly recommend picking it up.