Still, people in the late 1970s and early 1980s were wacky about video games, and Atari made hay by making a claim that no other company at the time could -- "If you want licensed, home versions of video games, you'll find more on the 2600 than anywhere else." While it's easy, these days, to look back on those old 2600 arcade conversions and laugh because the graphics were rather sloppy when compared with the titles that inspired them, a good home version of a hit preserved the gameplay extremely well.
People would forgive bad graphics, but wouldn't tolerate an arcade port if the gameplay wasn't there (take a look at how people absolutely ridiculed Atari's Pac-Man or Parker Brothers' Reactor for an example of the price of not preserving the elements which made the games hits). More frequently, fortunately, arcade ports for the 2600 were true enough to the original games to make them huge successes. Millipede is one of those titles which is lacking in the graphics department, but absolutely shines in terms of gameplay.
Millipede, of course, was Atari's sequel to it's remarkably-successful Centipede arcade game. Atari, being in the business of publishing arcade games, had the advantage of porting them to the 2600 with no worry of negotiating for licensing fees and such rot. We happy Atari users, naturally, were thrilled to get home versions of Atari arcade hits, and wasn't disappointed at all with Millipede.
Millipede put the player in control of a "base" charged with the duty of blasting the heck out of an advancing millipede and a garden full of spiders, fleas and other pests. The millipede, which started out as a single unit full of several segments marching in unison, would break into several pesky units if not shot at the front or end. The evil millipede, for whatever reason, marched from the top of the screen to the bottom with one, single-minded objective - kill that fellow shooting at it. Assisting the fiendish millipede were spiders which hovered around and harassed the player, fleas which dropped obstacles (i.e. mushrooms) on the field and tried to drop on the player. Various and sundry pets showed up to make the player's life difficult. Naturally, the player was stuck with one, unavoidable fate - to be worn down by the nasty pests.
As in all good arcade titles, the game started easy but got insanely difficult with each passing level. The player's only defense was a good blaster and packages of DDT thrown around the field. The addition of DDT was a nice touch in that it put up a nice cloud of insect-killing gas when hit and required the player to focus on good ol' strategy. Indeed, the addition of DDT was the very thing which really made this fantastic title stand as a worthy sequel to Centipede (still one of my favorite five arcade games of all time, by the way).
Atari managed to preserve the gameplay faithfully in Millipede. And, characteristically, the graphics just aren't as good as they were in the arcade. The player became a mere block, while the mushrooms, millipede and everything else on the field just wasn't as well defined as they were in the arcade. In spite of the fact Millipede was one of those rare 16-kilobyte titles (mammoth memory in the 2600 days!), the graphics are a bit sparse. Fortunately, there's not a lot of screen flicker to worry about, although the animation gets a bit choppy at times. That, however, is to be expected - there's a lot of activity going on during the game, and the field becomes absolutely packed with mushrooms after a time. I can't help but marvel at how the mushrooms were treated by Atari programmers - those appear constantly and are being chipped away at all the time by shots from the player. Keeping all of that straight was a heck of a feat.
The control on this game is a somewhat tricky issue. In short, I curse at myself for not picking up an Atari Trak Ball controller every time I play Millipede. Naturally, the game utilized that particular controller, allowing the player to whisk around the screen quickly. Still, the joystick allows the player to control the action pretty well. While the player has to move around pretty quickly to avoid sudden death, he is restricted to the bottom one-fourth of the screen, so it's speed and not distance that's crucial to avoiding death. The joystick is accommodating in that regard.
Ah, and then there's the sound. As usual, the limited sound system on the 2600 provides a bare minimum of racket. Still, the Atari programmers did a good job of providing the player with enough audio clues to have a good idea of what's happening in the game. Since Millipede was designed as a fast-paced action game, visuals and audio are both important. While the sound's not exactly great, the player does receive enough cues help him out with the game. Really, that's about all you can ask for, isn't it?
All in all, this is a fantastic game that I am thrilled to have in my collection. Unfortunately, it's fairly rare because it came out in 1984 - a time when the 2600 was being phased out in favor of the 5200, which was released in 1982. Still, running across 2600 games for cheap isn't an uncommon experience, and this is one you should look for the next time you come across a stack of games.