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Millipede (NES) artwork

Millipede (NES) review

"This is an arcade port done right, adapted to the target platform's strength and limitations rather than simply making the assembly code run."

It's difficult to appreciate the ingenuity that goes into a good arcade to NES translation. More than simply porting an existing code base to work on different hardware, the differences in hardware and the NES's limitations meant that the developer needed to recognize and redesign aspects of the game that wouldn't work well on the new platform. When an NES version of an existing game was made, it often needed to be re-written from the ground up for the new platform. This meant that the quality of a port depended more on the skill of the new developer than the quality of the original title.

Millipede is a game that looks quite easy to pull off. It's a combination pinball and shooter, a long corridor of a screen where shooting different enemies replaces power ups and everything is moving downwards. You are a guy with a bow and arrow being swarmed with insects in a mushroom jungle, and you cannot move beyond the bottom edge of the screen. Spiders swoop in from the sides and jump around like jackasses. Inch worms can be shot for a brief respite of lethargy, snails slime stealthily across the bottom of your area, and bees inundate the screen every few stages. Cans of DDT are found sporadically and can be shot to clear a small section of this insectoid hell.

The action is chaotic, twitchy, and may cause angina. More so than its predecessor, Millipede is busy, with the action on the lower half of the screen threatening to overwhelm you at every second. In this mess of colors and flashing bells is our titular foe, the monsterous millipede, who slinks back and forth as he makes his way from the top of the screen to the bottom. With so many enemies flying about at once, the millipede itself almost seems like an afterthought.

The frantic speed of Millipede is the reason why arcade cabinets used a trackball instead of a joystick. The trackball allowed for small, fine movements within Millipede's tight quarters. This, along with the significant difference in aspect ratios, is the crucial problem any successful port would need to address.

Hal solved the resolution issue rather deftly. Rather than modifying the play area to fit a 3:4 screen, they shrunk it. By only utilizing a portion of the screen, they were able to keep the tall, narrow screen shape of the original arcade machine while simultaneously reducing screen clutter by moving the score information to the side.

The controls are another matter. The NES's D-pad is simply no substitute for a trackball. It's touchy and it would have been difficult to move the short distances required for this game. Hal has done their best with the hardware though, utilizing all 8 directions with no noticeable lag. They have also scaled the difficulty downward, but increased enemy speed. Because enemies don't linger or appear in massive packs the same way they do in the arcade, you can use bigger, less precise movements to dodge them. This helps mitigate the impossibility of pixel-precise navigation on the NES's controller.

With only two game modes, hard and hard-as-fuck, you won't be playing Millipede ad nauseum like people may have done during the golden years of the arcade. If you buy millipede today, it'll be by accident, stuffed in a shoebox of games you found at the flea market. You'll pay 50 cents, play it for 30 minutes or so to see how far you can get, then put it in your collection and never look at it again.

In your brief foray with Millipede, take a minute to appreciate Hal's fine work. This is an arcade port done right, adapted to the target platform's strength and limitations rather than simply making the assembly code run. The original might have been 6 years old by the time Hal released this version, but it's an excellent adaptation---and it's not like you're going to find a Millipede cabinet anytime soon.


dagoss's avatar
Community review by dagoss (August 08, 2012)

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honestgamer posted August 10, 2012:

Huh. I might have to give this one a look. I like Centipede/Millipede, but I find that I tend to like quality NES ports of old arcade games even more than the originals (graphics aside, I prefer 1943 on the NES, and Paperboy too). By the way, why the extra spaces between paragraphs? I don't think you've done that in other reviews. It drives me bonkers!
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dagoss posted August 10, 2012:

I usually write reviews on my computer in markdown, then convert it to HTML by hand (since there's usually not much markup), but I was too lazy this time and just ran it through pandoc. It added <p></p> to all the paragraphs (which makes sense), but that apparently adds those spaces?

I fixed it.

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