Return of the classic game where you shoot centipedes and turn them into mushrooms
Genre: Arcade, SHMUP
Publisher: Atari Inc.
Release date: 29 Sep, 2021
Centipede is a classic. You’ve probably at some point played either it, its sequel, or one of its many many clones. The game was first released in the arcades in 1980 or 81 (the game has a copyright of 1980, but Wikipedia and Mobygames says that it was released in 81), and it’s a fixed screen shoot ’em up where you’re meant to try and rack of a highscore while battling centipedes that split in two when you shoot them. The game was a huge hit for Atari back in the days, and it still holds up remarkably well.
Centipede: Recharged is an attempt to update the venerable classic, while sticking true to the original concept. You’re still shooting centipedes that move down towards you, and the centipedes still split when you shoot them. A few other bugs will also try to ruin your day, like the dreaded spider that was the cause of many deaths in the original game.
Centipede: Recharged is a neon coloured update of the original Centipede, that seems to have taken some inspiration from Geometry Wars and that era of neon-coloured retro-inspired games, though it has a less cluttered look than those games usually had. Beyond the neon-aesthetic the first thing that you might notice is its aspect ratio. It’s 16:9, which was not the aspect ratio of the original game. This makes the playfield pretty wide.
All the things on the game field, be it the player ship, the centipede, any bugs or mushrooms are made up of what looks like an attempt at emulating vector graphics, that is instead of sprites with different colours everything is just made out of lines, like a wireframe, though even the later vector graphics arcade games did not have circles as round as the ones in Centipede: Recharged. It’s a pretty nice look and it’s consistent. Also, the scorpion finally looks like a scorpion. Shooting things causes explosions to appear, but these are less distracting than they might look in screenshots.
Fast paced electronic music will be playing at pretty much all time which fits the overall look and feel of the game. It might be slightly generic sounding, but it’s not bad, at least not for a game like this. There’s not a lot of different tracks though, and everything sounds very similar.
Every played Centipede? Then you know exactly what you’re in for with this one. You’re a lone ship who need to face off against an endless onslaught of bugs coming your way, while trying to rack up a high score. The centipede is of course the most interesting enemy of the lot, it’s a long thing made up of multiple segments that can be destroyed individually. Unless you hit it in the head or in the rear the centipede will split into two. Any piece you hit will also turn into a mushroom, which will block your shots, until it’s destroyed, and centipedes will bounce off them, going further down and changing direction. There’s some strategy to when and where you try to attack the centipedes because of this, you don’t just want the midfield to be clogged up by mushrooms.
There are other bugs to worry about than the centipede, though not all of them are unwelcome sights. Spiders will appear in the lower parts of the screen and will move around somewhat aimlessly. Shoot these and they’ll drop a powerup. Fleas will head down at high speed from the top of the screen and leave a trail of mushrooms after it and scorpions will more across the screen horizontally and turn any mushrooms it touches into poison mushrooms. Any centipede that touches a poison mushroom will immediately head down towards the bottom of the screen and make life more difficult for the player.
As Centipede: Recharged is based on a classic arcade game getting a high score is the main objective of the game. Almost everything you do will add to your score, although not everything gives as much. Shooting a flea for an example will give you more points than destroying a piece of a centipede, and mushrooms give very few points. Basically the tougher the target is to hit the more points it’s worth, which encourages you to take risks. The game will get harder and harder over time, with more special bugs appearing, so playing it safe will only mean that you’ll score fewer points overall. It is important to destroy mushrooms though, because even though they don’t give many points they’ll quickly start clogging up the playfield if you don’t. Mushrooms take multiple hits to destroy so it’s potentially costly to focus too much on them though. Many of the powerups do make clearing the field easier though, with spreadshots, explosive shots and other such things making a huge difference.
There’s an interesting interaction with powerups and how the game handles multiple shots at screen at once that allows you to rapid-fire your weapon. In the original centipede you could only have one shot on the screen at once, so if you shot something close to you, you could shoot immediately again, but if you missed you would have to wait until the shot left the screen at the top. Recharged also has this mechanic, but when you use a powerup only the shot that fires straight up counts as your primary shot, and not the extra shots shooting out towards the sides. Positioning yourself behind mushrooms that are close to you and letting the sideshots fan out can really help with clearing out enemies and other mushrooms that are further away.
One major difference between the current centipede and the old one is the fact that the playfield is quite a bit wider. You have a lot of room to dodge enemies and just move around, though you also only have a single life, so make one mistake and you need to start from the beginning. Rounds are short, lasting at most a couple of minutes, and death never feels frustrating.
Other than the arcade mode where you chase a high score, there’s also 30 challenge levels, each one with its own quirks. These have an end goal, like kill a certain number of spiders or destroy a certain number of enemies with bombs. There are of course leaderboards for these as well, and for most of them it’s simply a matter of who can beat them faster, though a few are score based. Time will tell how hard it will turn out to be to get an “optimal” time on these, but chances are that the leaderboards will pretty quickly fill up with times that are more or less impossible to beat.
Centipede: Recharged feels surprisingly faithful to the original Centipede, despite some of the changes it made, like adding powerups and increasing the width of the play area. If a faithful update of a 40 year old arcade game is something that’s worth getting excited over is something I’ll leave up to you, but as someone who has a soft spot for the original Centipede and some of its later clones & home conversions I enjoyed Centipede: Recharged. It might not be a game worth playing for tens of hours, but as a game you boot up for a couple of minutes when you just need to kill some time it’s quite good. Those who enjoy chasing high scores might also get a kick out of trying to top the leaderboards.