Centipede (PlayStation Home Arcade), Centipede & Millipede (XBLA), Centipede Origins (iOS), and Bad Caterpillar (XBLIG)
February 16, 2013 6 Comments
Probably the biggest misconception about me as a gamer is that I’m anti-retro or anti-old games. I’m not. I’m simply of the opinion that some games age better than others. I wouldn’t want to play Space Invaders or Pac-Man as they existed back in the day. I’m perfectly fine with modern remakes of them, like Space Invaders Extreme or Pac-Man Championship Edition. On the other hand, some of those older games have aged pretty gracefully. Centipede is one such game. In fact, it’s one of the few golden age coin-ops that I feel blends in perfectly with the current generation. Its twitchy, fast-paced gameplay lends itself perfectly to ten minute portable sessions. It released recently on the Vita’s Home Arcade platform, and I snagged it for $1.49 in preparation for today’s review. That’s about what I would have spent to last 15 minutes on the coin-op if I had been alive in 1983. Did I mention I really suck at it?
So what do I think of Home Arcade? Um, hmmmm.. you know, in the four years its been around, I never have really used PlayStation Home too much. I would rather just be able to launch games straight off my Vita’s dashboard without having to open Home Arcade. The interface is clunky and half the time I’ll be stabbing the ever-loving shit out of the “your games” button and nothing happens. Having said that, the prices are pretty good ($1.49 each) and it has the advantage of being portable and on the coolest gaming gizmo in years. I don’t even have Home installed on my PS3, and I don’t plan on it, but you don’t need it to use Home Arcade. I can’t speak for the rest of the games (get back to me the next time an Asteroids clone hits XBLIG) but Centipede controls well. I guess you can’t ask for more. Which is a good thing, because what you get is a bare-bones port of the arcade original. They could have thrown in ports of the Atari home versions, but hey, it’s called making a lazy dollar.
I picked up Centipede on Vita because I wanted to compare it to Bad Caterpillar, a new Xbox Live Indie Game from Kris Steele. I like Kris, but the dude fucking aggravates me to no end. His games always have something glaringly off about them. Volchaos would have been fun if the movement physics weren’t so damn loose. The same goes for Hypership: Out of Control on XBLIG. If a gnat so much as farts in the direction of the analog stick, it sends your ship flying. In a game that involves lining up your character to shoot smaller targets, precision control is kind of needed. Hypership is actually sublime on iPhone, and very addictive. Of course, that has the advantage of having drag-the-ship touch controls for extra-accurate firing. His track record of acceptable controls on XBLIG is about as good as THQ’s record with bankruptcy avoidance. Considering that Bad Caterpillar looked really close to Centipede, a game which requires precision movement so much that the arcade original used a trackball, I braced for the worst.
As it turns out, my worries were misplaced. Bad Caterpillar handles pretty well. Not perfect. No joystick-based Centipede can possibly be perfect. But, I can honestly say that it plays better than any other version of Centipede I played today. That’s a lot of versions. For the sake of comparison, I also bought Centipede & Millipede, a 2-for-1 Xbox Live Arcade port of the arcade games. Movement for these is too loose to be acceptable. I’ve always had a difficult time in Centipede lining up shots correctly, especially when the last segments of the Centipede are near the bottom of the screen. That’s not a huge problem in Bad Caterpillar. It’s a fucking chore in the XBLA arcade ports. If it was any looser, it would hang out on dimly-lit street corners and be considered a bio-hazard.
The biggest disappointment with the XBLA ports (besides the awful controls) is how the “modern” versions are really just the same old Centipede with some new (re: 15 year-old) special effects added. On the flip side, Bad Caterpillar looks old, but it features some nifty new ideas such as power-ups and bombs. Should probably clear this up: by new, I meant “new for Centipede.” My problem here is that they don’t get spit out often enough. I played full games where the item drops were nothing but points. The game should go nuts with them. I mean, I can already play a Centipede-like game that doesn’t offer power-ups. It’s called Centipede.
I guess I should bring up that I also played the iOS update, called Centipede Origins. It’s a micro-transaction oriented shooter that tries to controls like Kris Steele’s Hypership does on iPhone. But I found the drag-the-shooter controls to be too glitchy, with the cursor being unable to keep up with my finger, even as I dragged it slowly across the screen. Only played it for like five minutes, would never want to play it again. I also dug around and found my copy of Centipede for the Sega Dreamcast, but decided against spending any time digging around for the actual machine to play it on. Honestly, I’m all Cenipeded out. So what are my thoughts? Well, the Vita version is a worthy use of money for a solid portable version of a masterpiece. The iOS version is just about the worst thing to happen to iPhone since Siri. The XBLA ports of Centipede & Millipede come across like quick, effortless cash-ins and should be avoided like the clap. Finally, the XBLIG update Bad Caterpillar is actually a decent game with a few problems. The moths are unfair, there’s no online leaderboards, and the heavy metal soundtrack is so out-of-place. It would be like going to Ozzfest to listen to country music. But I do recommend it, because it’s the best (and cheapest) version of Centipede you’ll get on your Xbox. Kind of sad that an XBLIG port made by a guy I consider to be a bit of a twat completely slays the official versions of Centipede. Just kidding, Kris.
Centipede on PlayStation Home Arcade was developed by Atari ($1.49)