The Fair Shake


Greetings Readers! This week, Carl wants to know about your M.A.D. skillz. Not MAD, but rather, Missile Attack and Defense. Huh? He’d like you to defend all of civilization against an onslaught of missiles and helicopters falling from the sky. No NOT Missile Command. As this game is one or two players, he wants to play too, you know. WTF? Why is this pesky salt shaker being so vague? Read on.

I like my oatmeal lumpy…..

Early in the 1980s, it seemed anything produced for the Atari 2600 made money (much to the disappointment of some gamers who were stuck with some lousy games). Companies saw this as a market ripe for expansion. Even companies one would not expect, such as, Quaker Oats. Yes that Quaker Oats, with a games Subsidiary, known as US Games. Some are derided as garbage, while others are actually quite enjoyable, such as this week’s title, M.A.D..

Bob thought pointing at the screen would make the laser more accurate.

M.A.D. puts the player as the defender of Earth’s energy supply. Of course, someone pissed in some alien’s cornflakes, and wants to destroy the Earth, via, you guessed it, your energy towers. Your only defense against endless waves of missiles falling out of the sky is a Photon Cannon. The missiles are attempting to crash into your ground stations, which are your planet’s energy generators. Luckily for you, the missiles turn white immediately before they come screaming downwards. Aim your Photon Cannon at the missile, or in the path of it as you shoot, hopefully, destroying it. Destroying all the missiles on screen ends a wave, and a new one begins. This repeats until the game is over. Missiles are worth 100 points each, and after wave 6 they are worth 200 points. To make the game more interesting, every forth wave has enemies coming from both sides of the screen and they are immediately ready to drop with no warning color change. If you (the Photon Cannon) is hit by an enemy, one of your power stations is destroyed automatically. Lose them all and civilization falls! The game ends as well.

Death of a helicopter

Game control is fairly straightforward. There is no method for targeting the missiles as they fall, other than watching the nipple of the gun tower slide along on the base. In two player mode, player two controls a cross-hairs that when centered over a missile and the fire button is pressed, the missile drops. Missiles free fall, there is no ‘guiding’ them other than estimating where they’d fall. Graphically however, M.A.D. is nothing special. Admittedly, it’s not on par with the better Activision 2600 games, However it’s not bad. Inexplicably, your energy towers are rainbow colored. I suppose the programmer figured out how to program a rainbow and wanted to use it. Kind of obnoxious, but not a deal breaker. The missiles and helicopters are indentifiable, while your Photon Cannon looks like a tower of brown pudding. I like pudding, so we’ll let it slide. Anyone who’s watched even one episode of MASH knows that the best time to attack is at night, thus explaining the constant black sky.

Rainbow towers! What do they mean?

Sound effects however, are actually pretty good. A song which signals your impending doom plays at the start of each wave. There’s a nice whoosh of the missiles as they streak over your energy towers. The ‘free fall’ noise of the missiles is pretty good, and the bullet noise is better than a simple beep, but not by much.

Let’s assume the helicopters are unmanned as well.

So in short, we have a sort of clone of Missile Command. Why give this game The Fair Shake? Easy. The two player mode. Lots of people like to play games on the Atari 2600, but run out of two player games after they work through the original Atari releases, simply due to the fact they don’t know any other games. This game has two player capability, simultaneously. One player controls the Photon Cannon, and the other ::drumroll:: controls the missiles attacking! At the end of a wave….. the roles are reversed! This game was a favorite of my father and I in the mid 80s. There aren’t many games with simultaneous gameplay, let alone games that have players swapping roles at the end of each wave like this.

I would say this is  my favorite US Games release. I love two player games, and the two player mode here takes a somewhat average game and elevates it to “the B-Side”. The game play is fairly tight so some strategy can be developed. I like to alternate across both sides of the screen to confuse the other player. As gameplay continues the missiles will fall faster. Chaos! Obliterate your opponent! Crush them! An overlooked, sometimes maligned game. Turns out, Quaker Oats can make a halfway decent game, and a good bowl of oatmeal as well.

Read this in William Shatner’s voice.