"As Good As Old Pizza Gets"
Retro Gaming, in recent years, has become an ever-growing phenomenon in the gaming industry. It seems that either developers are running out of ideas (which, as Thief, Half-Life, and a few others prove, can't be the case) or some gamers are simply getting frustrated with just how complex and involving games have become.
Like the silicon-crack-addicts that we are all, we cannot suffer the primitive graphics and sound of the old Atari systems upon which many of us wasted our carefree youths (you know, the days before we could get paid to do this). The solution to the befuddled gamer's problem: take the old game, add some new features or new gameplay style derived from the old, and for God's large sake add some spiffy 3D Graphics. That at least seems to be what Hasbro Interactive is bent on. Their recent retro update, Frogger, was a decent attempt to bring back the old cold-blooded-cross-the-road and now we have Centipede, a spiffy 3D update to everyone's favorite space invaders clone, and probably as good as it's gonna get for late 90's retro gaming.
There are two ways of playing the game, classic and adventure. The classic mode is just like the old game, except with spiffy 3D graphics. In the adventure mode, you are Wally, an unlikely hero citizen of the "wee people" (is that some sort of joke?) whose village is being threatened by the onslaught of the "Queen Peed" and her evil insectoid hordes. Two player adventures are also supported through either network or split screens.
Gameplay in classic arcade mode, for those of you not familiar with the old Centipede, takes place on a level playing field full of mushrooms. You are a little shooting thing that can maneuver along the bottom few rows of the screen. A centipede, consisting of a head and many body segments, comes towards you row by row, and you must kill it. If you shoot any segment, the centipede is split in half like a worm. The segment you shoot turns into a mushroom that you can destroy but obstructs your shots. To add to it there are a few other insects hopping around laying mushrooms and getting in your way. If you collide with an insect, you die.
In adventure mode, this concept is stretched onto a more 3D world. You can now move over varied terrain that includes buildings, drawbridges, towns, and mountains. You save little wee people, shoot the bugs, and collect power ups. Also your movement is no longer confined to back and forth on a few rows always facing forward, you can now go anywhere and you can turn, jump, and strafe. Typically you start out in one part of a level that is blocked off from the next. After you kill a few waves of centipedes and save a few wee people, you can go on. It's simple, its dumb, its brainless, and for a basic, unsophisticated shooter, it's barrels of fun.
The graphics accomplish their mission with aplomb. You can shift you view so that you can play from above your craft, "over the shoulder" behind your craft, or you can be inside the cockpit, playing in first person mode. The 3D engine is just nice enough to please the Unreal-cultured eye of today's gamer, but still simple enough, with a low enough polygon count, to feel like an old 80's classic. Aesthetically the game reminds one a little of Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64.
The sound is almost purely retro. Most of the sound effects feel as though they were pulled right out of the old 80's original. The music, on the other hand, is very new. It's also very energetic and well written. The entire game is quite a meshing of the new and the old. The actual story behind the game, the rendered cutscenes, the 3D Graphics, and the music all feel very new. The sound effects, theme, and general gameplay, on the other hand, are almost completely faithful to the original.
Back in the day of Centipede, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and other old arcade hits, the only gameplay idea was to survive through increasingly difficult stages of onslaught long enough to get a high score. There really was no end, but at some point or another, the game just got completely impossible to beat. Centipede retains a little of that feel in that it is a difficult game. As you progress from level to level the stages get increasingly difficult, to the point where the final battle with her majesty, the Queen Peed, is almost maddeningly difficult. This poses a slight problem in that Centipede is obviously geared towards younger gamers, who might not yet have the twitch skills to succeed at something this challenging.
That aside, this is probably the best product of the recent retro gaming craze (Activision's BattleZone notwithstanding, it's nothing like the original). It manages to get everything that was right about the original and communicate that old classic flavor to the new audiences of the '90s. But then, it really is only an extension of an incredibly simple premise, so many gamers will find it tedious and dull. For the rest of us who don't mind thin manuals, load up this puppy dog and prepare to experience your childhood/teen years all over again, with extra lip-gloss and none of the bushy hairstyles.