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MILLIPEDE: KILL THOSE PESTS

For a long time, I was living in the conviction that Atari games were ugly, boring, and lame. Then I got to know a local Atari community, and they showed me games that are absolutely fantastic. No matter that their release year is quite low. The playability of those games is brilliant, and one even doesn’t mind the squareness of the graphics. One such game is Millipede by Atari Inc., a sequel to the extremely popular Centipede. It was originally released for an arcade cabinet in 1982 but got home computer and console conversions for Atari VCS and Atari 8-bit, as well as (later) for the Atari ST (1986) and, finally a non-Atari, 8-bit NES console in 1988.

Let’s focus on the Atari 8-bit version, which is my favorite.

ABOUT THE GAME

Millipede is based on the very same idea like its predecessor, Centipede. You are controlling a little shooting spaceship that moves on the bottom of the screen, and you try to shoot everything that moves and also that doesn’t move on the screen. There are flowers (growth) that don’t move and centipedes- Oops! Sorry – the millipedes running from top to bottom in horizontal rows. When they reach a flower, they change their direction and go one row down. When you shoot them, they divide themselves into smaller, shorter millipedes and so on. But that’s not enough; sometimes an inchworm or an earwig appears on the screen going from the left to the right or in the opposite direction, and you must shoot it. If you do, you get extra points. Every 10,000 points you get an extra life. Having enough lives is important in this game, as you never know what will kill you next.

Almost every action has its dedicated sound effect, so you’ll feel like you’re playing the real arcade or that you’re chased by a police car!

The game consists of multiple subsections. In the first one, you fight a normal millipede, flowers, and nasties like jumping spiders and bugs. When you kill the millipede completely, the level changes a little bit and there’s an attack of evil dragonflies going directly from the top to bottom. But that’s still not enough. There are DDT bombs with powder placed randomly on the screen. When they’re hit and the millipede or any other baddie is near, the powder kills them immediately. After disposing of enough insects you finally get to the toughest part. There you have to shoot mosquitos that go down in non-orthogonal directions, so it’s difficult to attack and/or avoid them. I mentioned jumping spiders. They’re very creepy, and they move more and more randomly as the game progresses, so it’s dangerous to stay in their neighborhood. Finally, bugs come from the left or right at the playfield’s bottom, and therefore you should move your ship up to avoid them.

GAMEPLAY

It’s a very hard game, almost every millisecond you have to be on alert. It’s fast, and the beasts are treacherous. You need a really good joystick that fits in your hand. Thanks God you don’t need to press the fire button all the time. If you keep it pressed, a kind of autofire effect is applied, but you can’t be sure that’s enough in critical situations. The farther you get in the game, the tougher the beasts are and everything’s getting worse. You might collect many extra lives during the game, but then a lethal part comes and you can easily loose them all in one level. I think the game doesn’t have any goal set except reaching as high a score as possible. At the start, you choose a starting score from 0 to 60,000 points, which effectively chooses the start difficulty (you skip the easier part connected with the lower score). You’re getting bonuses at every 10,000 points. Information about each next bonus is on the bottom of the screen.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND

The graphics are pretty basic, there’s nothing outstanding about them. You recognize beetles, spiders, millipedes, flowers easily. But there’s no remarkable art in the game. The sounds are crazy. Almost every action has its dedicated sound effect, so you’ll feel like you’re playing the real arcade — or that you’re chased by a police car!

RESULT

Millipede is one of my most favorite games on the Atari because of its incredible simplicity. I’m playing the game again and again from time to time, and it’s still the same fun like it used to be when I saw it for the first time. If you feel like shooting someone or something, don’t do it in reality — go and play this game instead!

GOING AVERAGE

We’re introducing a new section of our web: Average Stuff. Here’s how it came to be.

A while back, at a staff meeting (well, yeah, we’re an online project, but we’re based pretty much locally, the advantage of which is that we can convene in the flesh), I asked Akio Tenshi, “As a retro gaming site, knowing what’s ever been hot and what not, do we have any kind of right to review average games, or should we just focus on the best of the best?”

His reply was ingenious in its simplicity. “‘course we do. Actually, we have to!” he said.

“Why?”

“Because no one else is doing it. Plus, you could say that there are many average games that are great to someone. Take me, for example. I’ve never been into those huge, complex, endless games. RPGs? Turricans? Strategies? Text adventures? No, siree. Cookie, Jet Pac — those are my games. I grew up with those, and they’re the best!”

“Well, maybe, but you’re a freak of nature,” I thought. But then I remembered Jeep Command.

Jeep Command is a great game. In spite of its simple principles (it’s just an extremely well done clone of Moon Buggy with a few improvements) and simplistic graphics, its playability is polished to the last bit – the game teaches you how to play it and continuously makes you learn more and more tricks until you make it. It practically wants you to go through it, and gives you a sense of accomplishment. Yet, no one seemed to notice Jeep Command. It never left its home platform of Commodore 64, it wasn’t converted even to the Speccy, on which usually every good game appeared sooner or later. And today, it doesn’t even has its own page at Wikipedia. If you’re a game and Auntie Wiki doesn’t know you, it’s like you’ve never existed. So, even though Jeep Command is on my list of, say, top 100, or even top 50 C=64 games, maybe it’s not a tops game. Maybe it’s average. Well, yeah, probably it is.

But you know what? I bet there are other people like me: people who would find Jeep Command great, if they ever learned about its existence. Nowadays, even more people could appreciate Jeep Command, because we’re living in the blessed (and cursed, but that’s a topic for a philosophical and religious discussion) times of 8-bit emulation. It needs just one thing: spreading the word.

Average games won’t blow you away. They’re bad by no means, but they don’t stand out like the most famous games that everyone remembers do. No unforgettable graphics, no stellar music, no incredible technical feats. But we’re always happy to go back to them.

So we’re happy and proud to tell you that, among others, we’ll review truly average games.