CENTIPEDE: RECHARGED (VCS)
Published 2021 (Atari)
Developer: Adamvision Studios, Sneakybox
CENTIPEDE: RECHARGED, as the title suggests, is a modern update, or “recharge” of Atari’s 1981 arcade classic. Just like the game that inspired it, CENTIPEDE: RECHARGED is a single screen shooter where you use your cursor to blast bugs into bits! The tone of the original is largely intact while adding modern gameplay elements like power-ups, challenges, achievements, local co-op and leaderboard.
The second in Atari’s RECHARGED series, CENTIPEDE: RECHARGED maintains the wireframe pseudo-vector vibe and endless arcade mode originated 2020’s MISSILE COMMAND: RECHARGED. However, whereas Missile Command was conceived as a mobile game and migrated to consoles, CENTIPEDE: RECHARGED was purpose-made for consoles and PC. As such, it serves as a bit of a re-launch for the young series and is the first of four planned RECHARGED titles to be released in 2021. The game is available on multiple platforms, including: VCS, Switch, XBOX Series X/S, XBOX One, PS4, PS5, Steam and Epic.
Let’s take a quick look at the VCS version!
Controller options on the VCS consist of Atari’s Modern Controller, Classic Joystick or third-party gamepad. Some Centipede purists will no doubt bemoan the lack of mouse/trackball support. This is completely understandable as the original arcade game was designed with the trackball in mind. Personally, I find playing with either the Modern Controller or Classic Joystick to be more than adequate.
Control is intuitive. Use the left thumbstick or joystick to move the shooter. The A button fires. That’s all there it to it.
There is something refreshing about the simplicity of the control scheme. Shooter movement is smooth and responsive.
Gameplay comes in two flavors: Arcade and Challenges.
Arcade mode will be instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the original game. Single screen? Check. Mushrooms? Check. Centipedes, fleas, spiders and scorpions? Check, check, check.
The entire affair is on a single screen but this time its horizontal for modern displays. Player movement is limited to the bottom third of the play field. Centipedes enter from the top of the screen and begin their march to the bottom. Fleas drop from the top creating mushrooms in their wake. Scorpions enter from either side, moving horizontally in a straight line and turning any mushroom that they touch poisonous. As in the original, poisoned mushrooms drive the centipedes mad and cause them to race directly to the bottom of the screen. Spiders still enter from the side, but they serve a different purpose in CENTIPEDE: RECHARGED. Instead of frantically and unpredictably jumping, the spiders move more slowly and serve as the source of important power-ups.
Where the original Centipede had clear waves and three lives, CENTIPEDE: RECHARGED features an endless arcade mode where you have one life to attain the highest score possible. However, progress is noted with color changes. The onscreen action starts out slowly but very rapidly builds to a frenzy with multiple centipedes, spiders, fleas and scorpions to contend with. Once the explosions start and the whole screen rains fleas, you can feel very overwhelmed. Its easy to get boxed in. Fortunately, there are several different power-ups to aid you on your way, courtesy of the spider. Here's a quick run down of each:
Spread Shot: A three bullet spread shot.
Rapid Fire: Increases speed of shots fire.
Burst: A five bullet spread shot.
Side Attacks: Allows simultaneous shooting from the front and to each side.
Bullet Trail: A powerful trailing shot that cuts through enemies and mushrooms.
Ghost: The ghost scares centipedes and sends them scurrying to the top and off screen.
Bomb: These come in two varieties. The large single bomb icon creates a line of bombs somewhere on screen. The cluster bomb icon creates a small cluster of bombs somewhere on screen. When bombs are hit, it clears out bugs and mushrooms with a fantastic fireworks display.
Slow Down Enemies: Significantly reduces the speed of all onscreen enemies (and the music) while player maintains speed.
Mirror: Creates a mirror of your shooter at the top of the screen which mirrors your movement and shots.
Explosive Bullets: A powerful shot that can take out a cluster of bugs or mushrooms.
Orbiting Bullets: Surrounds the shooter with a circle of orbiting bullets. These will destroy enemies and mushrooms on contact.
Line of Death: A powerful one-shot laser beam.
Heart: Regenerate your partner in co-op!
Most power-ups are time limited. Some are immediate. You will lose a timed power up if you pick up another while it’s in use. Learning how to strategically use power-ups is critical to survival.
Overall, Arcade mode provides a healthy dose of single-screen, high score chasing action that anyone who grew up in the arcades will appreciate. While great in small doses, it does become somewhat tiresome. Fortunately, CENTIPEDE: RECHARGED includes a Challenge mode that adds 40 different challenges to the game, 10 of which are exclusive to the VCS. Shout out to Atari for including 10 extra challenges on their home platform!
Challenge mode provides additional depth and value to the game. The challenges vary significantly from timed survival challenges where you can’t kill certain enemies, to score challenges, to task challenges. The key to solving some of the challenges is not always obvious. This is equal parts frustrating and rewarding. Careful use of power-ups and a lot of trial and error are required to progress and unlock later challenges.
Additionally, there is local co-op for two-player action in either Arcade or Challenge modes. This is a great feature and changes the dynamic of the game. It's also truly co-operative as you actually work together and share the final score. What’s better than blasting bugs? Blasting bugs with a friend!
As previously noted, CENTIPEDE: RECHARGED maintains the wireframe pseudo-vector vibe originated 2020’s MISSILE COMMAND: RECHARGED. Clearly inspired by the future-retro esthetic of games like Geometry Wars, players, enemies and mushrooms are rendered in simple and bright neon graphics. Different shots and power ups result in pyrotechnic spectacles of blooming explosions. This can be somewhat distracting but looks absolutely fantastic. Additionally, there are subtle background graphics of leaves and plants animated on the sides of the playfield. Finally, there is an Immersive setting that zooms in the graphics. This looks very cool and amps up the difficulty as your field of view is limited.
The esthetic is carried through to the menus, which are all very clean and easy to navigate. One quibble that I have with the VCS version is that the backgrounds on the menu screens are largely static. In other versions of the game these are fully animated. It’s a small thing but I’m curious why the VCS version doesn’t include the same menu treatment.
Another tick against the VCS version is lack of 4K support. The game runs fine in 1080p but when using the console's 4K setting, the FPS noticeably dips. For a game like this it hardly makes a difference but Atari heavily advertised 4K support for the VCS. While 4K performance on the console has improved with continued updates, I recommend this in 1080p only for VCS owners.
SOUND & MUSIC:
Music is one of the strongest points of CENTIPEDE: RECHARGED. For this game and all upcoming RECHARGED titles, Atari has wisely partnered with composer Megan McDuffee who is known for her work on the River City Girls series, among others.
I cannot overstate how awesome the music is. Whether in-menu or in-game, it perfectly sets the tone of CENTIPEDE: RECHARGED. That there is no jukebox is a real tragedy. I’ve found myself letting the menu screen go on in the background. Its truly enjoyable. Fortunately, all 16 tracks that Megan has composed for the series are available via her bandcamp.
Aside from the music, the in-game sounds have an almost “wet forest” vibe. Gone is the relentless march of the original. Instead, the sound of bug movement is quiet and almost “squishy.” Sure there furious explosions, but there are also juicy pops and various rustling noises. Its very fitting.
CENTIPEDE: RECHARGED includes proper unlockable achievements which have become a staple of modern gaming. Some are progressive. Other achievements are awarded for completion of a single task. For example, “Harvester of Eyes” requires you to kill 800 spiders, whereas “I Am the Storm” is awarded when the player detonates 50 bombs in a single shot. There are 16 achievements in all.
The inclusion of achievements is a welcome addition to the game, particularly on the VCS. However, as the VCS does not support trophies, the achievements are only viewable in-game. Compare this to the PS4 version, which utilizes Sony’s trophy system and is linked to a user's profile. It would be nice to have a way to share your achievements.
The game also includes a leaderboard feature. The leaderboard on the VCS version of CENTIPEDE: RECHARGED is currently local only. High scores are displayed in game for both Arcade and Challenge modes. Other versions of the game feature global and friend leaderboards. Apparently Atari is working on a friend and leaderboard feature for the VCS. Hopefully this is implemented soon as competing against others is one of the more fun aspects of classic arcade gaming.
I wholeheartedly recommend CENTIPEDE: RECHARGED if you are a fan of the original or single-screen shooters in general. It perfectly captures the spirit of the arcade classic, while adding depth, modern features, excellent music and visual flare that make it relevant for today. CENTIPEDE: RECHARGED is a future-retro bug-blasting spectacular. If this is where Atari is headed with the RECHARGED series, I’m in!
Have you played CENTIPEDE: RECHARGED on the VCS or other platform? What do you think? What titles are you most excited for in the RECHARGED series?
Edited by Sabertooth