Centipede is another shooter from Atari’s golden age. However it isn’t a space shooter. Instead, its a garden shooter. Rather than a spaceship killing aliens, you are a humanoid (later versions show it to be an elf) killing bugs in a garden. The domestic nature of the game and the fact it was both developed by a woman and extremely popular with women doesn’t do much to help the stereotypes.
The control method is fairly unusual, in that it is controlled with a trackball. This meant that rather than being limited to side-to-side movement, you can move anywhere within your box at the bottom of the screen, which is about 5 rows high. As a result you have much more control over your movement, and it is no longer game over should the centipede reach the bottom, since you can continue to dodge it, albeit it is extremely difficult. However most of the time your main threat isn’t this centipede, but the spider that hops around the bottom of the screen. Concentrate on the top of the screen where the centipede is, as is so tempting to do, and it will kill you, and its erratic movements can make it hard to avoid even if you are paying attention to it. Particularly dangerous is when it first appears, since if you are too near the edge of the screen when it does it will likely land straight on you, killing you before you have a chance to react. The centipede itself moves in horizontal lines, moving down one line and turning around whenever it reaches either the edge of the screen, or one of the mushrooms dotted around the map. This means that its movements are extremely predictable, which is helpful in downing it quickly. It is also useful that whenever a segment is destroyed it drops a mushroom in front of it. This can be used to your benefit to shepherd the centipede into a vertical tunnel, where it can be easily and quickly destroyed. These mushrooms can be destroyed, so there’s no need to worry about placing them so that you don’t block angles of attack to the centipede.
In later levels additional threats appear, such as scorpions which poison any mushroom they touch, causing the centipede to rocket down the screen on touching any such mushroom, and falling mushrooms which lay more behind them and kill you if you hit them, and can’t be destroyed. Lives are fairly standard, you start off with 3 and gain more for every 12000 points scored. If I had to make one complaint it would be that the bullet patterns can be extremely irregular, sometimes firing 3 in quick succession, sometimes with lengthy gaps between shots. This makes hitting the final segment of the centipede, which speeds up once it is the last part standing, extremely tough, even when it is close to you. That aside, the game plays beautifully, and is well worth the adulation it still receives from the arcade gaming community.