Modernised versions of old school arcade games are quite common; we've already seen two on 3DS so far, Frogger 3D and Pac-Man & Galaga Dimensions, the latter comprising even more classic call-backs of yesteryear, but one game that hasn't seen much love in the remake department is Centipede. Bucking the trend, Centipede: Infestation puts a contemporary spin on the high-action shooter of old, and with WayForward at the helm it's no surprise that the result is quite positive.
Bugs have overrun the world, isolating civilisation to small, safe pockets within an uninhabitable wilderness. One goofy hero has made it his home, however: Max the Bug-Slayer, or so he calls himself, who spends his time living up to his name. Our adventure begins when he runs into Maisy, who tends to gardens scattered about the great unknown. Even with the clichéd hero story and the cocky protagonist who's obnoxiously confident in his own wit and cool but rude in a Raphael of the 90's Ninja Turtles sort of way, the plot that unfolds is surprisingly deep and emotional for a simple, explosion-heavy title that could easily get by without one. There's even a moving moment or two along the way, something that we certainly weren't expecting to find in a game that initially greets you with "Press A for Action!"
The gameplay is very simple and retains that classic Centipede feel, though the 3D perspective makes it feel closer to Robotron at times. You've got a gun, and you run around shooting marauding bugs. If your friend has a cart, they can join in for some co-op action, which can prove quite the fun time, though it's understandably multi-cart only. Some levels have you progress from one end to the other, some have you stand your ground and some see you protect Maisy from an onslaught. At different points, usually the end of each stage, you'll blast apart a centipede that moves just like its Atari forebears. Mushrooms make a similar reappearance, providing a barrier and a decoy that can work in your favour or against it. These grow from seeds dropped by bugs, as do sentry turrets that protect you until insects destroy them.
You collect upgrades along the way, including a varied arsenal that allows you to wield an improved version of each weapon by picking up two of the same power-up. We would have preferred a more advanced upgrade system, however, as your initial shooter remains the same throughout, and it's somewhat weak and slow for our tastes, though that helps add to the challenge. You can unlock other characters' initial weapons, but there's not much of a difference in the end.
Even though it's such a simple game, it avoids becoming too repetitive by deploying a satisfyingly diverse army of enemies in your direction, so while few drastic changes take place from one stage to the next, you should continue having fun throughout. The demanding health system also adds to the challenge in a satisfying way – it's not terribly hard to avoid getting hit for the most part, but even on the easiest difficulty settings, you can only take damage nine times until you're down for the count. If you were using a special weapon at the time, the game takes this away from you as well. The challenge ramps up at a pleasing pace as well, and once you're done, you can go back and play through again on Hard Mode or one of its even tougher unlockable counterparts.
It's a good thing that those extra difficulty settings, because the main game is fairly short – 40 generally small levels total. Because not much changes over the course of things, going back through on Hard or Insane really does feel like extending the game instead of reliving what you've already beaten before, so it's not without its longevity. Unlockable characters who play somewhat differently, collectible wardrobe alternatives, accomplishments and goodies like concept art also add to Infestation's staying power.
The controls work well: you move with the Circle Pad and shoot with the A, B, Y and X buttons, allowing you to hold two down at once to shoot at an angle. It's not as flexible as a dual stylus controller would allow – and makes a good case for Circle Pad Pro – but it's still fulfilling, and the rigidity makes it feel even more like an old arcade game, even if we would prefer a full 360 degree radius. You can stomp with L and tap icons on the touch screen to activate new weapons, which feels intuitive and doesn't get in the way.
The graphics aren't ugly, but nor are they terribly attractive or interesting, and the 3D effect plays a small role. The music, on the other hand, is quite good, featuring an impressive and exciting soundtrack that fits the action well.
Centipede: Infestation isn't terribly complex, nor does it pretend to be. It sports good, fast, simple arcade action with multiple difficulty levels and a satisfying variety of enemies to keep things from growing stale after extended play. It still chances becoming repetitive, and while going back through on a harder setting adds to the replay value, 40 levels is a pretty small count when they're generally fairly small and drastic changes are few from one to the next. It's still a lot of fun, however, and works well for on-the-go bug-squashing sessions, especially if you've got a friend by your side.