Monday, April 9, 2012

Favorite Video Games: Centipede (arcade) 1981

The 80's called and they want their shorts back, so maybe you should ya' know... take them off.
 I miss the days when arcade cabinets were as ubiquitous as the homeless. Now arcade games are all but gone, and we are still lousy with bums. The problem was, that as home consoles got better throughout the 80’s and 90’s, the prospect of almost beating Mr. Burns after you shelled out $6.50 became less and less appealing. Speaking as someone that grew up in that era with an allowance of $5 a week, I can tell you that it was usually a better investment to spend your money on candy and just play video games at home. It was that kind of mentality that killed the arcade. If only I could also kill the homeless with my mental powers…
"Kill all homeless people."

Still, I really miss video arcades. Playing video games at home is nothing like playing socially, with a bunch of dorks. Getting called a “fag” when you’re playing Call of Duty on X-Box LIVE doesn’t hold a candle to getting called a “fag” in person by a dude with a bunch of dragons on his shirt. And where else are you going to see fat chicks make out with dudes that are like a foot shorter than them? Actually, that part was always kind of gross, and maybe some things about the arcade weren’t so great. But the video games were awesome. My personal favorite arcade game is, was, and always shall be:

Centipede (arcade) 1981
I wish there was a way to make this picture shine like the briefcase in Pulp Fiction.

In Centipede you try to shoot the Centipede to turn its individual segments into mushroom before it can get to the bottom of the screen and kill you, all the while avoiding spiders and fleas which will also kill you. That’s about the extent of the plot, at least as it’s presented in the arcade. There is however a comic book that came with the Atari console port, but it’s pretty weird. According to the comic book the Centipede is your best friend, forced to attack you by an evil mind control spell. After defeating the evil wizard your character transmographies all the mushrooms back into a Centipede. And you all live happily ever after, except that in the game there is no evil wizard or ending for that matter. Classic arcade games only end when you lose. You’re dead and your friend is condemned to walk the Earth as a battle thrall for an evil wizard. Taken in the context of the comic book the game is even darker than Missile Command, but the comic also reveals that your character is supposed to be an elf with a magic stick. Huh? Looking at the original graphics it’s hard to say exactly what your character is supposed to be. It sure as shit isn’t an elf which kind of shits on their whole back-story.
It's still better than Frank Miller's most recent efforts

Weird back story aside, Centipede is a great game. Part of the appeal is that it’s an arcade game through and through. The console ports of the game all kind of suck, especially the one for the Atari 2600 which looks like some dots moving around some mushrooms to attack your cube. PONG looks more like a real tennis match than the 2600 port looks like the Centipede arcade game. That aside, the biggest problem with all home console ports of Centipede is the distinct lack of an arcade style trackball:
 I don’t know if you get a true sense of scale in the picture, but the ball is about the size of a pool cue. It’s not a controller that really lends itself to a host of other applications, because you have to actually flick your wrist to move your dude effectively. A trackball or mouse for the computer is probably the closest facsimile to an arcade trackball, but if you really want to play Centipede the way God intended you have to play it at the arcade.
Olivia Munn can play whatever version she wants, which is just as well.  Now I can ask her if she knows how to work a joystick

The arcade experience is one of the best parts of playing Centipede, but the absolute best part, at least for me, is that I’m really good at it. When I play Centipede I usually make the High Scores List, and occasionally even get in “the zone.” “The zone” is where the brain ends and the reflexes kick in, and you start racking up extra lives before you can spend them. You don’t think you just win, until you don’t anymore. It never lasts long for me. I’m not that good at video games, but I am the best Centipede player I know. Being good at Centipede gives me a pride most people reserve for things like bowling a perfect game, hitting a grand slam, or eating grand slam (fatty!)
Sadly, not my arm.  I bet this guy gets more snapper than the Gorton's fisherman.

Jealous? Well like I’ve said before, I’m not that good at video games. You can probably get better than me if you just work at it for a while. You owe it to yourself to try, because Centipede is a great game. Just make sure that if you do give it a try you do it at the arcade so you get the full experience.  While video arcades will never really come back to their former glory, I hope that we can at least bring back that "centipede filled vagina" meme.  Hilarious.
I promised myself that when I made a Human Centipede joke I'd make it count.  Go Bulls! 

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