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 thats the backstory introduced in Centipede: Origins, a re-imagining of the Atari arcade classic for the iOS era.

If youre as old and creaky as me, youre likely familiar with Centipede. But for the youngsters out there who think that Pac-Man is a boxers 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 insectand its spider, flea, and scorpion friendsinto 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 originals 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 spiderif left unattendedwill leave a sticky web that can trap your gnome and keep him from firing for a few seconds. (That's very inconvenient when youve 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 geardisappointingly, those purchases last for one game only, so you have to use them or lose themand to unlock one of the games four levels. You can pay real money to buy more coins if you wantthats also pretty typical of iOS games latelybut the items in Centipede: Origins arent terribly costly, so you arent forced to rely on in-app purchases.

The graphical updates serve Centipede well, though some details arent 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 iPhones smaller screen; its much more enjoyable to play Centipede: Origins on the iPad.

Overall, though, this is a welcome upgrade to an arcade mainstay. If youre a grizzled veteran of the Centipede Wars like me, youll enjoy the more detailed landscapes and varied challenges of this new version. And if youve never played the game before, its a perfectly fine introduction to a classic arcade shoot 'em up.

Philip Michaels is the editor of Macworld.com.

This story, "Centipede: origins for iPhone and iPad" was originally published by Macworld.

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