Review by Retro

"Put an arcade classic on a system and give it much better controls and you get a game that's even better than the original"

The Atari 2600 had more than its share of arcade classics that were made for the system. The majority of them turned out to be almost as great, if not better than the arcade titles themselves. Not to mention that with only a few exceptions, these arcade translations were usually the best sellers for the system. When I think of the best arcade gems that have premiered for the Atari 2600, the first ones I think of are Space Invaders, Crystal Castles, Missile Command, Frogger, Defender, Moon Patrol, Asteroids, and Centipede. In my opinion, those are the cream of the crop arcade titles whose lives would be extended on the 8-bit Atari 2600.

In Centipede, you control a wand at the bottom of the screen and attempt to shoot and destroy as many filthy bugs as you can. Your main nemesis is a long and winding centipede that invades each level. You must exterminate each little segment of the centipede in every level in order to proceed to the next one. Like all the enemies, the centipedes can be either fast or slow, depending on the level you're currently playing. But watch out and don't ever let the centipede get to the very bottom of the screen, because if you do, separate segments will start regenerating and coming from either side of the screen.

Since the name of the game is Centipede, you would think that the actual centipedes would be the most important thing in the game by a long shot. They are, but mushrooms are right up there with them. Scattered all over the screen is clusters of mushrooms, or in this remake's case, squares. Two or three shots from your wand will annihilate any of the mushrooms without even leaving a slice of them to put on a pizza. When a centipede or one of its segments touches a mushroom, it will drop down a level and continue its horizontal and downward journey. This can make for some nice strategies or disadvantages. You could leave a couple of vertical rows of mushrooms in place, making the centipede run straight down once it reaches that point. In that case, you could destroy an entire centipede and all its hundreds of legs (even though it doesn't appear to have any) in less than five seconds. Or, if you're a little sluggish in getting set, this centipede could reach the bottom of the screen before you can say, ''****ing fungi.''

Centipedes can't do the job all on their own. There are also a few other enemies that you have to keep an eye, or a wand, out for. All through the game, spiders pop out from either side of the screen at the bottom close to where you are. These arachnids jump up and down while making their way to the other side. They also take out any mushrooms that they touch with their overly poisonous bodies.

A flea will fall from the top of the screen to the bottom if you destroy so many of the mushrooms in an area. Fleas produce new mushrooms for the screen as they fall. Plus, if you shoot and destroy a flea, another one will appear right away; you will probably have to allow at least one of them to fall all the way down if you get tired of hearing that plummeting noise.

Finally, the enemy that earns you the biggest number of points when you send it to its grave is the scorpion. Scorpions scroll from one side of the screen to the other and poison all the mushrooms that they come in contact with on their way. You'll know when a mushroom is poisoned because it turns whiter than vanilla. It would be best to get rid of the poisoned mushrooms as quickly as you can, because if any part of a centipede touches just one of them, it will immediately fall straight down the screen until it reaches the bottom.

Most of the game's graphics, such as the spiders, centipedes, fleas, etc., look just like they do in the original. The only differences are that the graphics in the arcade game are more colorful, and instead of actual mushrooms like you see in the arcade blockbuster, or even on the title screen of this game, the mushrooms in the Atari 2600 version are just flat squares. Apart from the mushrooms, Centipede's graphics are very good, and when you first see the title screen, your mouth will probably drop in awe once you remember that it's for the 2600.

Some things are better left unchanged. Centipede's sounds are one of these things. The zapping sound of the projecting lasers that you shoot, the mysterious sounds the spiders make while flapping around and the haunting, plummeting effect of the fleas, etc., all sound just like they did in the arcade game, and that's great. You can always tell when a certain breed of enemy is somewhere around by the sound of their very own unique effect. There's also a constant background beat that really adds to the fast-paced suspense and action. Each sound is clear, well done, and they go great with the atmosphere of the gameplay.

The control is the only bad thing whatsoever about the arcade game because you have to use a track ball instead of a joystick. However, since this is the Atari 2600 version of Centipede, you get to use the controllable joystick! That's a huge plus. The controls are responsive and simple to master. All you have to do is move the joystick in the direction (you can move in 360º at the bottom fourth of the screen) you want to move and press the button anytime you want to shoot. If you need to shoot as fast as possible, you can simply keep hold of the button to fire away nonstop.

When comparing the arcade version of Centipede to the Atari 2600 rendition of the same game, it's easy to see that they are almost identical. The gameplay is the same and so is the sound. The asset that truly sets them apart is the controls. Maybe you're one of the precious few that can make the character move around just like you want it to with a track ball, but I never have been. I've been severely spoilt by joysticks. The graphics are a bit less satisfying in the 2600 translation, but the fun factor and replay value are both here in full swing. If you like the arcade classic with the basic name of Centipede, or even if you've never played it but like fast-paced shooting games, do yourself a favor and purchase Centipede for the Atari 2600.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 04/14/01, Updated 04/12/03


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