In Centipede, your mission is to destroy a never-ending wave of centipedes. Each level contains one centipede, which begins at the top of the screen and winds its way down to the bottom of the play field, where you are located. Each centipede is divided into 12 segments, each of which must be shot in order to complete the level. As the centipede gets smaller and smaller, its speed increases. Other targets to look out for include spiders, fleas and scorpions. The spider dances into the field every so often, while the flea drops through to add more mushrooms. The scorpion comes across the screen and makes some of the mushrooms poisonous; if the centipede hits one of them, it plummets to the bottom of the screen. If you are hit by any of the bugs, you lose a life.

The Arcade version of Centipede uses a trackball controller instead of a joystick. A trackball is basically a large ball inside the arcade cabinet which is spun using the hand to control the onscreen characters. A trackball, like a computer mouse, allows for more refined movement than a standard joystick. ~ Skyler Miller, All Game Guide