The only game system to offer a serious challenge to the Atari 2600 in the early 1980s was best known for its complex sports titles.


I've been waiting years to do this!  Now that I've got a reliable Intellivision emulator, I can finally determine once and for all which of the Demon Attack games stands out as the best.  Unfortunately, I'm going to have to limit myself to three versions of Imagic's popular shooter, since I can't get the VIC-20 game to work properly... and I'd rather not touch the miserable TI 99/4A release again.  Nothing sets me off quite like playing that cosmic joke, only to take the cartridge out of the computer and read the words "SUPER Demon Attack" written on the label.

Once the VIC-20 and (shudder) TI 99/4A releases are taken out of the picture, that leaves us with three Demon Attack games.  The first and most familiar of these is the 2600 version, a competant but somewhat simplistic shooter inspired by rounds from the arcade classic Phoenix.  Remember the scenes where giant alien hawks would emerge from eggs floating aimlessly in space?  Well, it's a little like that, except the aliens come prehatched and much better armed.  Unlike Phoenix, it's not necessary to hit the dead center of your attackers, but some of your foes will split into two winged warriors once they're blasted.  Worst of all, the little bastards will even attempt to crash into you if you pick off their twin brothers.  Luckily, you're rewarded with extra ships if you somehow manage to survive all this chaos.  Don't squander these lives, because they'll be hard to come by once the aliens get really vicious.

Imagic did a nice job with the 2600 version of Demon Attack.  In addition to flashy, colorful graphics, the gameplay is challenging and intense thanks to the enemies, who pour on the bullets and are maddeningly tough to target.  Nevertheless, this wasn't enough to satisfy me, because I knew the Intellivision version of Demon Attack offered one thing its Atari counterpart did not... a confrontation with a gigantic, yet ultimately vulnerable boss.

I was convinced that this omission was a crippling flaw, but after spending time with the Intellivision version of Demon Attack I realize that the boss fights don't matter much if the rest of the game stinks.  All right, maybe "stinks" is an overstatement... we're not talking about the TI 99/4A version of Demon Attack here.  Nevertheless, the Intellivision game doesn't compare favorably to Demon Attack on the 2600, and there are plenty of reasons why.  The graphics are hideous even with the colorful, detailed background... it's a shame all that detail and color wasn't applied to the blocky, poorly animated characters.  You'll forget about the sound just as quickly as the designer apparently did... but one thing you WON'T forget is the rough, unreliable control that robs you of shots when you need them most.  And that boss battle?  Well, don't get too excited about that.  It had the potential to be a classic gaming moment, just like the climactic fights in Phoenix and Gorf, but several obnoxious flaws reduce it to a novelty.  The first is that the mothership doesn't take realistic damage... you can't carve your way through it with shots like you could the flagship in Gorf.  Instead, there's a force field which slowly shrinks as it absorbs shots.  The second is that there's a constant stream of birds aimed in your direction... they don't fire and they don't attempt to dodge your own bullets.  What they WILL do is eat up your entire supply of ships by continually crashing into them if you lose your first life in the middle of the screen.  This also happens to be the location of the mothership's weak point.  If you're headed there, you'd better make your shot count, because it might be your last.

So it looks like the 2600 version of Demon Attack is the best of the ones available.  That's doubly surprising when you compare it to the Atari 400 game.  Imagic had the potential to take the best elements from the 2600 and Intellivision games and combine them to create the ultimate Demon Attack, but they instead offered a straight conversion of the 2600 version.  I'm rating it lower not only because Imagic could have done better on this more powerful system, but also because the Atari 400 game is slower and slightly less satisfying than its little brother.

I don't think I'll ever be completely happy with Demon Attack.  The series has plenty of potential, but so far it's never been fully tapped.  An enhanced remake with better graphics, more enemy patterns, and (of course) theatening bosses could change this, but until that happens, my loyalty will remain with Phoenix.


tech specs


CP1610 16-bit


894.866 KHz


128 bytes


cart, max 32K




512 bytes RAM









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