The Game: Demons coalesce into existence in mid-air above your cannon. Send them back where they came from by force – but watch out, as demons in later levels split into two parts upon being hit, which must then be destroyed individually… (Imagic, 1982)
Memories: Ah, the storied history of Demon Attack. Back in the day when the legal game was almost as new the video game, Atari was jealously guarding its territory. Now, never mind that Bushnell-era Atari had clearly based some of its cartridge games on arcade sleeper hits – Circus Atari borrowed heavily from Exidy’s coin-op Circus, to name just one – the company was now out for blood under the management of Warner Bros. and Ray Kassar. There was the infamous K.C. Munchkin suit, in which Atari successfully sued Magnavox for that game’s similarities to Pac-Man, and then there was a lawsuit over Demon Attack, which Atari claimed was stealing its Phoenix mojo. Atari had gotten the rights to turn the arcade sleeper hit Phoenix into a cartridge for the 2600, and the 2600 version of Demon Attack was always meant to include the fortress-like mothership that appeared in the Intellivision version of the game.
Demon Attack was already more than a little similar to Phoenix, so Atari moved to protect its turf, finally coming to an agreement with Imagic to remove the mothership screen from the game. The narrow focus of Atari’s legal attack shows that it wasn’t really trying to protect Phoenix as a whole – the mothership stayed in the Intellivision edition – but was trying to wield some influence over what else was available for the 2600 aside from Atari’s first-party titles.
Sadly, where Demon Attack could’ve been the kind of killer app game that Pitfall and a few others were, it was robbed of its single most distinctive feature, becoming a pale shadow of the version that could be enjoyed on other consoles. But it’s still fondly remembered by 2600 enthusiasts for its engaging game play and, at the time, better-than-average graphics.