"What? How could he say that? The best game for the system, indeed," you might say. "Heresy! What the heck is he talking about?" In a nutshell, the graphics are darn near perfect, the cartridge is common as sin and very cheap and the multiplayer option adds an amazingly-addictive element to the now-classic game of Centipede.
Now, the Atari 7800 had a number of flaws. Chief among them is the fact Atari never really did use the 7800 to seriously compete with the Nintendo Entertainment System. The marketing for the 7800 was not what one would call aggressive, and the folks at Atari didn't seem to fully comprehend one very important fact - the video game world changed dramatically after the NES appeared in 1985, and arcade ports wouldn't cut it with consumers wanting sophisticated platform games (i.e., Super Mario Bros. and its progeny). Considering the marketing for the 7800 and the titles which appeared for it, I can't imagine Atari officials ever considered the 7800 a serious competitor to Nintendo's dominant NES.
Still, the 7800 does have its good points. The very reason to own the system, I think, is because there were some very good arcade ports made. While Centipede may have seemed like old news when it was released for the 7800 in 1986, having a good, solid copy of that game around these days is great for those of us who grew up in the 1980s and are prone to fits of nostalgia.
Graphically, Centipede doesn't really push the 7800 to its limits, but the game looks a heck of a lot like it did in the arcades. Because the game doesn't tax the 7800's hardware, the result is a well-animated, fast and responsive game which is an absolute joy to play.
For those not familiar with Centipede, the concept is as far-fetched as most arcade hits were and continue to be. The player is confined to the bottom one-fourth (or so) of the screen and simply blasts everything that moves and tries to avoid getting hit. Marching down on the player is a centipede which breaks into segments when hit anywhere but the very front or back of the creature. The segments move independently and descend on the player in a chaotic fashion. To make matters worse, a pesky spider shows up and harasses the player from time to time. And, then there are the mushrooms. The centipede moves down a row when it hits a mushroom, and fleas show up to drop more mushrooms (and, rush at the player). A scorpion appears every so often and "poisons" the mushrooms, causing the centipede to rush to the bottom of the screen when it encounters them. Naturally, the mushrooms can be hit, too, and the player is advised to do so - a screen cluttered with the fungi means the centipede will advanced to the bottom of the screen faster.
The sound is arcade-perfect, too. The "marching" sound the centipede makes is captured very well, and there are plenty of audio cues to warn the player when something important is happening on the screen. Often, you'll "hear" the spider, scorpion or flea arrive on the screen before you seen them. The sound effects aren't great, but they are exactly what you'd expect. After all, Centipede is an old arcade game, so what would one expect it to sound like.
Add the arcade-perfect sound, graphics and frantic gameplay to an Atari Trak-Ball, and you've got a game that's very close to the original. But, it's much better than the original due to the great multiplayer mode in the game. Remember that old feature in Space Invaders for the 2600 which allowed to players to be on the screen simultaneously? That feature is incorporated in Centipede for the 7800, and really adds a great dimension to the title. Centipede is great with one player, but it's an absolute hoot with two folks on the screen at the same time. That particular multiplayer mode truly lifts Centipede above the fact - finding a great version of Centipede isn't hard, but how many consoles allow two players to compete at once?
I know the Atari 7800, like all consoles, had some titles made for it which are rare and expensive these days. While those may be of value to collectors, I doubt you'll find anything for the system which is more fun than Centipede -- a cartridge which is dirt cheap and can be found easily. If you own a 7800, you owe it to yourself to pick up a copy of this.