Video Game Thoughts: Centipede & Millipede

Centipede & Millipede were 1981 and 1982 arcade shooter games by Atari, Inc that I played on the Game Boy. I had already played Space Invaders and Galaga & Galaxian on the Game Boy, two earlier arcade shooter games. Centipede & Millipede were the next evolution in the top-down shooter genre. The player’s laser gun at the bottom of the screen could now move up and down in addition to left and right. This added control for the player would have made the game easier, so they sped up the movement speed of all the enemies to keep the game just as hard.

The centipede was a large enemy that started at the top of the screen. There were several mushrooms that littered the playing field too. Each time the centipede hit a mushroom, it would turn downwards, slowly making it’s way down to the player’s gun to destroy it. To keep things interesting, each time the player shot a segment of the centipede, that segment would turn into a mushroom. The centipede was now two separate centipedes that each made their way down. In this way, the closer the player got to destroying the centipede, the harder it got. It was a really nice touch.

There were also others enemies like spiders and bees that got in the way, but the gameplay was mostly about destroying the centipede. Besides the centipede splitting, another area of good game design was the speed of the laser. Basically, the player could only have one laser beam on the screen at a time. If the player fired at a far away object they couldn’t fire very fast. However, if they fired at something really close, the fire rate could be really high. There was a real sense of skill in mastering the firing rate of the laser gun.

Millipede was mostly the same as Centipede except with slightly better graphics and a few more types of enemies. Destroying the “centipede” was still the same, though I guess it was called the “millipede” in the sequel. Because the two games were so similar, they were pretty much always packaged together after the big arcade machines had become obsolete.

Just like Space Invaders, Galaga, and Galaxian, Centipede & Millipede were great games for short bursts of fun. This made them great on vacations. On vacation I never really knew the schedule. Even if we had one, we many times would deviate from it as we decided on something more fun to do than what was planned. When I couldn’t guarantee I would be able to play a long time, games with short gameplay experiences were best. Centipede & Millipede’s fifteen minute games fit right in.

Both games were much longer for players that were actually good at them. For a good player, one game might take them an hour or more. I didn’t have the patience to really practice that hard though. I could understand trying hard for something in real life like playing an instrument, but it sounded like too much work for a video game that didn’t matter much. Because I always died so quickly in Centipede & Millipede, they were good for these short bursts when I wasn’t sure how much time I would have to play.

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