Centipede: Origins for iPhone and iPad
All those years of playing Centipede in the video arcades of my youth, and I never knew that I was helping garden gnomes do battle against an onslaught of bugs. But that’s the backstory introduced in Centipede: Origins, a re-imagining of the Atari arcade classic for the iOS era.
If you’re as old and creaky as me, you’re likely familiar with Centipede. But for the youngsters out there who think that Pac-Man is a boxer’s nickname or that Missile Command is a U.S. Defense Department initiative, Centipede featured a multi-legged bug descending down a mushroom-strewn screen with evil intent. It was your job to blast this insect—and its spider, flea, and scorpion friends—into whatever the bug equivalent of Valhalla is.
A lot has changed from the time those first centipedes began scurrying across arcade consoles around the country. For starters, Centipede: Origins trades in the original’s iconic two-color look for more detailed graphics and landscapes. I will admit that a part of me wishes the centipedes still changed colors with each wave as they did in the original game, but I welcome another innovation introduced in Origins: Your gnome fires automatically in this game, saving you from having to continuously tap the screen of your iPhone or iPad to get off multiple shots. All you need to concern yourself with is moving your gnome back and forth with a slide of your finger.
The bugs get a new look in Centipede: Origins, as well as some new powers of their own. Instead of just bouncing around as they did in the original game, the spider—if left unattended—will leave a sticky web that can trap your gnome and keep him from firing for a few seconds. (That's very inconvenient when you’ve got a centipede bearing down on you). Some centipedes can burrow into the ground, popping up elsewhere in the mushroom maze. And there are new bugs to contend with as well, such as zig-zagging flies and charging beetles. It makes an old classic feel very fresh, even for those of us with detailed memories of the Reagan administration.
Centipede: Origins also adds a few elements that are pretty typical of the iOS gaming experience these days, namely the ability to collect coins as you blast your way through assorted insects. You can use those coins to buy weapons and gear—disappointingly, those purchases last for one game only, so you have to use them or lose them—and to unlock one of the game’s four levels. You can pay real money to buy more coins if you want—that’s also pretty typical of iOS games lately—but the items in Centipede: Origins aren’t terribly costly, so you aren’t forced to rely on in-app purchases.
The graphical updates serve Centipede well, though some details aren’t always handled with aplomb. The burrowing centipedes, for example, just seem to disappear, and I wish that the killing of a gnome by a bug was marked with something more dramatic than the current blue flash. This is one of those games that feels a little too cramped on the iPhone’s smaller screen; it’s much more enjoyable to play Centipede: Origins on the iPad.
Overall, though, this is a welcome upgrade to an arcade mainstay. If you’re a grizzled veteran of the Centipede Wars like me, you’ll enjoy the more detailed landscapes and varied challenges of this new version. And if you’ve never played the game before, it’s a perfectly fine introduction to a classic arcade shoot 'em up.
[Philip Michaels is the editor of Macworld.com.]