Atari made some great games in the early years of the Atari 2600's life, and they made many more in the years afterward. But the games released during the console's fifth year, 1982, really stand out, and not just because of Atari's fancy new silver labels. With those new labels came a new focus on quality and capability, and Atari was soon releasing games that didn't even seem possible on the 2600 just a year or two before. Not only were these new games possible, they were fun, with excellent graphics, engaging audio, and even between-game features that helped bring more of the arcade experience home.
Centipede was one of the first in this new line of games. To someone used to 2600 arcade ports like Pac-Man and Defender, or even better ones like Missile Command, Centipede is a jaw-dropping surprise, even before the first play! The title screen boasts more detail than any previous Atari release, with its easily-recognizable mushrooms and cutely sashaying centipede. Of course the title screen is also a bit of a cheat, since the actual game graphics aren't quite as detailed; those mushrooms turn into generic rectangles. But any grumbling about sleight of hand disappears when the game actually begins, and players realize there is virtually nothing missing in this translation! The fast and slow centipedes, the fidgety spiders, the mushroom-dropping fleas, the poisonous scorpions, they're all here, and they all behave exactly like they do in the arcade! Well, almost. The 2600's hardware did necessitate a few changes, but they are small in both number and impact. In all honesty, 2600 Centipede gets more things right and is a lot more fun to play than several other ports, including those for the Commodore 64 and Atari's home computers!
Atari is infamous for its actions that contributed to the home video game industry crash of 1984. Perhaps there isn't anything the company could have done to save its reputation following such missteps as Pac-Man and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Games like Centipede, however, prove they were still capable of doing things exactly right, even at the same time they were tripping over those other failures.