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Posted on Aug 21st 2014 at 09:45:28 AM by (singlebanana)
Posted under M.A.D., Atari, 2600, US Games, value, 2 player

Game:  M.A.D.
Genre: Shooter
Year: 1982
Publisher:  U.S. Games
Developer:  Western Technologies, Inc.
Rarity (according to AtariAge):  4 = Scarce+
Controls:  Joystick
Number of Players:  1 player (against computer) & 2 player (head-to-head)
Average Cost:  approx. $2 - $5 loose
Also Available On:   Only available on the Atari 2600

Tagline/Description: "Defend your future civilization's energy supply against waves of devious attack missiles. Your energy stations stand vulnerable...use your ground based Photon cannon and pit yourself against computer controlled missiles; or, let another player guide the missiles, and do battle head to head. Each wave of missiles becomes more aggressive and intense. Grab your controller and prepare for a furious battle."

M.A.D., or Missile Attack & Defense, is a game from my childhood, of which I associate great memories. In this game, you control a Photon cannon and fire at missiles before, and as, they are plummeting toward your city's energy supply stations. Once all of your energy stations are destroyed, the game is over. Sound familiar?

It doesn't take long to discern that M.A.D. borrows some of it's gameplay from Missile Command and with the success of its predecessor, it's a safe formula. However, M.A.D. stands on it's own and does a nice job of creating its own unique form of gameplay. Instead of leading shots to explode in front of oncoming missiles, you control a single land-based cannon which fires at missiles before they fall out of the sky and destroy your energy stations. Missiles are colored orange and green, but before they descend, they turn white for a few seconds. In later waves, all missiles are white and you are unable to determine when they will fall; this new element to the gameplay proves to be quite a challenge. As you progress through waves, the missiles also begin to drop at a much quicker rate, further increasing the difficulty.   

Scoring in M.A.D. is fairly straight forward; you earn 100 points for every missile you take out in waves 1-6 and 200 points for each missile from wave 6 and beyond. There are no bonuses for finishing a wave or for taking out every missile in a wave, which I think would have added a little more challenge and stragedy to the gameplay. However, don't assume that M.A.D. isn't challenging; the continual upping of difficulty (speed & white missiles) keeps you on your toes and the positioning of the cannon and subsequent firing takes a little getting use to. The Photon cannon can only be directed left and right and has only 7 unique positions (3 to the left, 3 to the right, and straight up). You can only fire two shots at a time, so not only do you have to adjust for the speed of the missiles in relation to your cannon's position, but you have to be fairly accurate since misses can really impact your game. While your cannon cannot be destroyed, it can be taken out of commission for a few seconds if struck by a missile. For this reason, it's always important to take out missiles that have turned over to white that may be directed at your cannon.

photo by insert-disk.com

Though 1-player mode is nothing revolutionary or excessively exciting, what makes this game so much more fun and memorable is its 2-player head-to-head mode. In 2-player mode, you alternate turns with your opponent on offense and defense and compete for high score. For each wave, one player controls the cannon, while the other controls a cursor, which allows them to click on missiles and drop them from the sky. One of my favorite memories as a kid is going over to my neighbors house to play this game and competing in 2-player mode. My strategy on offense was to drop missiles to stun my friend's cannon and then quickly drop missiles at his energy stations. I got good enough at this to where I could keep him consecutively stunned at times and take out a few of his stations, or allow my missiles to pass or drop without him earning points for destroying them.

As I mentioned previously, the cannon only has seven positions and moving it into these positions with the Atari joystick can be quite frustrating initially. The graphics aren't the best for this game, but I do like the vibrant use of color. Though you can make out the missiles and the Photon cannon quite well, the energy stations are indistinguishable, rainbow-colored blobs; the colors are nice, but some definition and structure would have been better. Sound effects are average and familiar to fans of Atari 2600 shooters and there is no soundtrack other than a few "impending doom" notes between stages.

While the concept of the game borrows heavily from Missile Command and is in some ways similar to Atlantis (which came out the same year), M.A.D. has enough variety to stand on its own. The 2-player feature really saves this game and makes it very fun and unique; in terms of replay value, you will get your money out of this mode alone. M.A.D. is a very affordable and somewhat less common title for the 2600. For me, it's price and the fact that it's great fun to play with a friend, make it one of the must-own multiplayer titles for any Atari 2600 collector.

(on as scale of 1-4: 4 being the highest):

Controls: 2
Graphics:  2
Sound Effects/Music:  3
Concept:  3
Replay Value:  3
Overall Score: 2.6 out of 4

For more info on the developer U.S. Games and their 2600 catalogue, see my 2011 article on Entombed: http://www.rfgeneration.c...ecrom99/Entombed-1597.php

video courtesy of Highretrogamelord

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My Brother and I spent several hours on that two player mode. We never had Missile Command, so we never had the issue of feeling it wasn't unique, but after playing both, I still like M.A.D. better.
I was hoping this was about Dr Claw.
The 2600 has some truly excellent 2p VS games.  Puttered around with this in the past, but now that I know of the Vs. mode, I'll give it a whirl some weekend with friends.  Thanks as always, Banana!
@Fleabitten: Well, I was hoping it was about Alfred E. Neuman.

On another note: M.A.D. also stands for the Cold War doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction, which would be the inevitable outcome of an all-out nuclear exchange.
@slackur: You're right, the 2600 has some great 2p vs games, my favorite of which is probably Warlords (4p is amazingly fun to break out at parties). The 2600 was a very "inclusive" system in that games were typically not made to play alone, but shared with friends and family. I think that some modern gamers/collectors don't have a reference for that period in time and as a result, don't get the full benefit of this system in terms of the multiplayer modes. Even a game as common as Combat can be loads of fun with a friend, especially considering the multitude of modes (Tank Pong being one of the best). For anyone interested in other cheap/quality multiplayer 2600 games, you can check out my blog post from last year: http://www.rfgeneration.com/blogs/necrom99/Banana-s-Best-Bang-For-Ya-Buck-2600-Games-2482.php 

@Zagnorch: Very nice trivia Zag! I'm glad we were lucky enough to have G.I. Joe thwarting the Cold War Cobra invasion while growing up.

The game looks great, so I will keep an eye out for sure.  Kind of surprised that this game isn't a paddle controller game.
That blog Banana is referring to has been an awesome resource ever since I got my first 2600 as a collector. There is a TON of 2600 stuff out there and knowing what each game was apart from the name is very difficult for someone who wasn't alive during all the advertising and marketing of those games. The blog helps to get that ball rolling and gain some knowledge about the games and the current market for them.
@bombatomba: I could definitely see the turret being moved by the paddle, but I think that the preciseness that would entail (to accurately get to 7 positions), would be difficult. This is pretty much the reason that no good ports of Tempest have been created for the Atari (or many of the other retro systems for that matter). No good Vectrex Tempest breaks the Banana's heart. Plus, you couldn't move your cursor up and down in the 2p mode.

@Boshamp: Thanks a lot Boshamp! I'm really happy to hear that my blog post has been helpful in your tracking down of 2600 titles. Hope you are enjoying them. Smiley
@singlebanana:Seeing as how Tempest is easily one of my favorite series, I agree about how much it is a shame the perfect vector-based system for it never received an official port. And we've had many an excellent Combat tourney at our crib.  It's a great 'final' versus game for multi-game all-nighters.  That and the ol' Super Pong system. Cheesy

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