Shaggy's Weekly Review: Centipede by Atari

As today is Wednesday and it’s Atari’s anniversary then it’s only natural to review a classic Atari game. This isn’t the first time I’ve done it but it’s the best thing to do. This week I will make it a little different, covering the Atari 2600 and 7800 versions as well as the arcade (I haven’t played it on the Atari 5200/800 so it wouldn’t be fair for me to say anything on that). This week: the classic Centipede



Centipede by Atari (1980)
Players 1-2


Save the Magical Forest from the evil Centipede and his fellow minions! Take control of a garden gnome in this timeless classic that was crafted to play in the same vein as Space Invaders, while offering a more intense and colorful alternative to that title which also was the first game to widely appeal to women (being programmed by a woman on top of that).


The object of Centipede is to destroy the descending centipede while surviving any collisions with one of its pods, fast moving spiders or falling fleas. Each centipede is made up of several pods that will initially be connected together. They separate as you blast them, making it slightly more difficult to eliminate the centipede as a whole and with each wave you will see the Centipede start off with a pod or two already broken off from the main body. The playfield is riddled with mushrooms (not those magical mushrooms that will make you bigger) that while they will block your attacks against the centipede they can be completely destroyed after a few shots. The mushrooms will either hinder or help the centipede make it’s way to the bottom of the screen as once the head of the moving centipede runs into a mushroom, it will descend one line down on the screen. Unlike Space Invaders, if the centipede reaches the bottom of the screen that does not mean game over – instead the centipede’s pods will start climbing back up a few rows. If they reach a certain point, it will cause another centipede pod to come onto the screen. Eliminating one entire centipede causes another wave to begin.

During each wave a spider will appear from either side of the screen in the area where you move your player. If you run into the spider (or more commonly they run into you as the are fast and erratic little buggers) you lose a precious life. However, if you manage to blast the creaton it will award you with a certain amount of points. The points are determined by how close the spider was to your player when you killed it. If it’s far away, only 300 points; near but not extremely close 600 points; dangerously close gives you a sweet 900 points. There are never a lack of spiders to afflict your day – after one crosses the screen or is blasted, another takes it’s place a few seconds later. At least it keeps you on your toes.

If you take out enough mushrooms a flea will fall down the screen leaving a trail of mushrooms in it’s path to make sure that the screen isn’t too empty. Be careful though as they are quick and if you touch them you die.

Also keep an eye out for scorpions which will go across the screen over a row of mushrooms causing them to change color. These are poisoned mushrooms that will cause the centipede to fall directly towards the bottom of the screen if touched.

One thing that helps set Centipede apart from it’s contemporary Space Invaders would first be the action – the centipede can reach the bottom of the screen rather quickly and the spider always presents a threat but with the proper practice and skill one can play this game well enough to not only to get a high score but to turn a few heads if playing at the arcade. This is one of those games that is fun to watch being played by someone who has mastered it. In addition to the fast action, your player is not restricted to the very bottom of the screen – you can move up and down to a certain degree (maybe about a 1/4th of the screen up) which gives you a fighting chance against the spiders as well as any centipede pods that reach the bottom of the screen.

Version Gameplay Differences

Among the many versions of the game, most fit in quite well with the arcade original. The arcade did make use of a trackball so to authentically mimmick the arcade game on a home console a trackball is necessary (the CX-22 is available for the Atari 2600 and 7800; there also is a 5200 trackball for the 5200 version of the game) The only notable exception would be the Atari 7800 version, which features an innovative and awesome Co-op and deathmatch modes (2 player on other versions alternates between the two) which add a new dimension to the game if you have a friend who wants to play along.


Arcade Version

Centipede was one colorful game for 1980. It’s pastel scheme attracted many female players to the scene that otherwise hadn’t been too interested in video games. Thecentipede_arcade.png resolution was far above what the home consoles could handle and the number of objects on the screen thanks to the mushrooms was impressive. The screen was vertically oriented to add a greater field of depth for the game. Add onto the fact that there was no flicker and the animation was pretty good for the time, featuring little details like the legs moving on each centipede pod; thus Centipede was cutting edge in 1980.

Atari 2600 Version

The Atari 2600 version of Centipede came out in 1982 and was a good effort for the system’s limitations – however the graphics could have been done better as was shown by Millipede two years later. The mushrooms are nothing more than small rectangles on the screen so you cannot tell which mushrooms have been degraded by your shots; the player is just a block and there is a lot of flicker. However it was overall a good effort on the 2600 – the title screen (which was rare for a 2600 game) is particularly impressive, feature mushrooms that look like mushrooms and a multi-colored, animated Centipede.

Atari 7800 version
Centipede - Atari 7800
The Atari 7800 comes quite close to the look of the arcade version, minus the higher resolution, vertical orientation of the screen and some of the colors but otherwise it looks great. There is no flicker as the 7800 is adept at handling these sort of games and the animations are intact as well.


Arcade version

While Centipede did not break any real ground in the audio world of video games, it does sound pretty good on the arcade, with a good mixture of bass and treble noises. You hear the marching of the Centipede, to the wiggling of the spider and the noise for your shots is far from annoying. With all of the action going on, one hardly notices the lack of music or other things that may be considered standard for games (in-game music was not standard at the time of course). In fact the marching centipede has a good beat to it.

Atari 2600 version

The 2600 version emulates the sound of the arcade version pretty well, minus the depth of the sound. Otherwise the sounds are as close as the 2600 could get.

Atari 7800 version

Sounds like the 2600 version, which was a common practice for many games that showed up on both consoles as the 7800 used similar sound hardware.

Cabinet Design (Arcade only)
Centipede is one of Atari’s finest looking arcade cabinets. While the cabinet shape is nothing extraordinary, the artwork is, with fine comic book style artwork plastered on both sides, a sweet looking marquee and a detailed control panel.


Centipede is a great classic that delivers on the Atari promise of keeping games easy to learn but difficult to master. The action is fast, the game fun and addicting. There were many versions of the game to show up on other consoles as well but nothing beats out the arcade original. If you prefer to get the game on a home console however, the 7800 version is highly recommended due to the additional multiplayer modes.

Useless Trivia

Centipede was programmed by Dona Bailey and Ed Logg.

Atari had printed out an ‘adult-oriented’ Centipede poster of a naked woman painted green, probably in hopes of attracting more men to the game. It was never released.
Dona Bailey was asked to work on Millipede but she did not finish work on that before quitting Atari.
There are other versions of Centipede available: an unreleased version for the Atari Lynx; a released remake of it that came out in arcades in the early 90’s; anSuper Centipede unreleased update of Centipede called Centipede 2000 for the Atari Jaguar; an unreleased update of the game called Super Centipede for arcades and a released update for the PC and Dreamcast. It also was released on Atari’s 8-bit computer line including the Atari 5200

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