iPhone review of the day: Centipede Ultra puts a psychedelic spin on an all-time Atari classic

On iPhone
Centipede Ultra
Price: US $0.99 / UK £0.59
Size: 10.0 MB
Get it now on iTunes:US (opens in new tab)/ UK (opens in new tab)

If you even slightly consider yourself a gamer, chances are you’ve played Atari’s antique arcade shooter Centipede before. Blast away at the advancing centipede, spider and other creepy crawlies weaving through the field of mushrooms, repeat. Atari’s taking a new look at the old classic with Centipede Ultra, a sub-$1 title that brings the psychedelic neon colors of Pac-Man Championship Edition: DX to the insect world. Is it worth it? Well, of course it is.

So how is this version different, besides updated graphics with Rainbow Brite colors? For one, it’s got power-ups like triple shot and a rainbow-hued laser beam. It also has an excellent new techno soundtrack. We don’t ask too much of our iPhone titles in terms of sound, but Centipede Ultra’s trippy score draws you into the neon insects motif with production values that go beyond what is expected for a 99 cent title.

Ports of this type are often shoddily done with the misunderstanding that simple controls automatically equal a great iPhone port – however, Centipede Ultra translates very well to the iPhone. In fact, it’s much better than the straightforward hatchet job done on the game in the recently released Atari’s Greatest Hits omnibus (note to developers everywhere – tiny virtual trackballs suck. Never use them).

Here, Atari shows you right where to put your thumb or other finger of choice via the circle with a fingerprint in it. About a centimeter above you is your “guy,” the little nameless pod that auto-fires at the centipede and his/her friends. As your finger moves, so does he, matching your finger’s movement. You go right, he goes right. You move left, up or down, he goes left, up or down. It’s much more precise than a virtual track ball and this way, your fat phalange doesn’t have to cover up your mini avatar—something that would’ve made it impossible to dodge the equally tiny fleas and spiders making their way towards your icon. Good move, Atari. Now go back and fix the greatest hits collection, okay?

Beyond the traditional gameplay you remember from playing Centipede in one of its many incarnations over the decades, Centipede Ultra comes with cool power-ups you can shoot to slow time, increase your rate of fire, fire a sweet rainbow laser beam, and so on. These fit so naturally it’s a wonder why Atari didn’t add them sooner.

If Centipede proved too much of a challenge for you in the past, you’ll be happy to know that Centipede Ultra comes with three difficulty levels to choose from. It felt pretty good to get over 100,000 with minimal effort, and no one needs to know I was playing on Easy that time.

Buying a game for less than a buck only gives you so much license to bitch, but we can’t help but wonder why Atari didn’t include online leaderboards for a game that would benefit so much from them. Comparing your score to the scores of those who play on your iPhone can only take you so far, and online leaderboards are a pretty standard feature for games nowadays. So what gives?

Again, though, there really isn’t much to complain about here. Centipede Ultra is a fresh looking and feeling remake of a classic that deserves to be downloaded. We challenge you to do much better for under a buck.

Apr 26, 2011

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