Centipede is a 1980 video game developed by Atari. It is notable in that it was one of the few video games that was co-developed by a woman (Dona Bailey) and, also had a large female following. Centipede was a monster hit for Atari and it could be found in nearly every arcade in the early 80’s. Centipede is based on the standard Atari hardware of the era with a single 6502 CPU, a single Pokey chip, and a 16 color CRT.
The concept of the game is pretty straight forward. The centipede starts at the top of the screen and moves down a level every time it encounters a mushroom. You must use your wand (blaster) to shoot the centipede before it gets to you. If you hit the centipede in a center section, it will split in two. You must also defend yourself from spiders that enter from the sides and fleas that fall from the top. Scorpions periodically run across the screen and ‘poison’ any mushrooms that they contact. If the centipede contacts a poison mushroom, it will ‘fall’ to the bottom of the screen.
Centipede was ported to a number of home consoles and computers including the Apple II, the Commodore 64, and the Atari 800 and the Atari 2600, 5200, and 7800 consoles. In fact, it is one of the few games to be ported to all 4 of Atari’s 8-bit game systems.
In 1982, Atari released Centipede for the VCS/2600 and, when you power up your 2600 with a Centipede cartridge installed, you will be amazed with the start screen…you will think that you are about to see an amazing graphical port for the 2600. Unfortunately, the start screen is as far as the amazing graphics go. The game graphics are disappointing as the mushrooms have become simple square blocks. As far as the game play goes, however, the 2600 version has it all…mushrooms, spiders, fleas, and scorpions. It plays as close to the arcade version as any 2600 port. In fact, Centipede is one of the top games for the 2600!
When the 5200 SuperSystem was introduced in 1982, Centipede was one of the early releases. Given that a Centipede arcade unit has the same basic CPU and sound chips as a 5200, it should be no surprise that the 5200 version is a classic port. Like the 2600 version, all of the arcade elements are present, but this time the graphics and sound are spot on. Control with a standard 5200 joystick is solid, but the 5200 version supports the use of the Trak-ball unit. Centipede is one of the top games available for the 5200.
In 1987, Atari released Centipede for the 7800 ProSystem. Even though the 7800 lacks the sound capability of the 4 channel Pokey chip, Centipede is well executed with a nice start screen, great graphics, and more than adequate sound. The only thing negative to say about the 7800 graphics is the box that is drawn around the screen. The 7800 version makes up for any shortcomings with neat two player modes. Two players can alternate turns, play against each other (at the same time), or play together as a team.
It is hard to say which version of Centipede is the best port. The two player modes in the 7800 version make it a blast to play with a friend, but I give a slight edge to the 5200 version for its accuracy to the arcade version. No matter which Atari home console you have, a copy of Centipede belongs in your game collection!