Centipede (Video Game Review)

Video Game Review
Centipede
Arcade
1980
Developer: Atari
Publisher: Atari

During the golden age of the arcades, you couldn’t throw a stone in an arcade and not hit at least a dozen shoot-em-up games. Centipede was one of the top games of its generation and still holds up reasonably well despite not being all that flashy. For those who like classic arcade action, Centipede is a solid bet. However, for those who have grown up with games that have things like a background and a decent soundtrack, it might be a bit problematic.

The game is all about stopping the infestation of giant centipedes and other creatures. The player moves their ship across the playing field trying to shoot a giant centipede and other dangerous creatures like spiders and scorpions. Killing a centipede cannot be done in one shot; all the segments of the centipede must be destroyed. The centipede does not actively go after the player, they move from left-to-right and then right-to left while moving down the screen until they hit an obstruction (either the side wall or a mushroom). Players can shoot the mushrooms to slow down the progression the centipede makes to give themselves more time to shoot and destroy the angry critter down. Once a centipede is vanquished, a new one appears and is slightly faster than the previous one. There also runs the possibility of a centipede being split into two by chaotic fire and two centipedes moving around the landscape independently of one another. If a player is zapped by an enemy, they lose a life. Once all the player’s lives are exhausted, the game is over.

Visually, the game isn’t much to talk about. The sprites barely look like what they’re supposed to look like. The centipede sort of looks like a centipede if you use your imagination and everything else kind of looks worse. While the game does provide colour, there isn’t much to it. The game has a black background and the sprites have a few colours to them. After the defeat of each centipede, the colour scheme changes. Some colour schemes work better than others since the wrong combination can be bad on the eyes. It’s hard to say which ones work well and which ones don’t because it depends on the person. Some may not even find a problem with any of the colour schemes.

The game doesn’t have any background music. There are sound effects of the shooting and the enemies moving but they’re not that great. Some sounds, like the sound of falling enemies, can be the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Sound is not a selling point at all and is a topic best avoided. Thankfully, sound is rarely a reason to play a game or avoid it entirely.

While the game isn’t great in the visuals or sound department (whether it be 1980 or today), the gameplay is quite well done. The action is frantic and makes for a very challenging experience. Compared to other shooters of the day, it’s quite complex. This type of activity within the game has given Centipede the ability to hold its own in terms of gameplay despite running on primitive hardware. Like many of the games of its day, the game’s only goal is to get the highest score possible. Maybe setting world records is out of the reach of many but the game never makes it seem impossible for one to set a new personal high score. Trying to break one’s top score becomes a mission that needs to be completed.

Atari’s Centipede is a very good arcade game that holds up well despite its age. The game becomes an obsession that’s hard to stop. Yeah, the game looks ugly by today’s standards (and by yesteryear’s too) and probably sounds better if you’re wearing ear plugs but it’s gameplay is incredibly well designed and can lead to hours of one’s life disappearing in the pursuit of just one more game.

☆☆☆

(Video of review to be posted before Sunday)

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