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. After fending off several waves of attackers, you blast off to deep space to confront their mothership. (Imagic, 1982)
Memories: No bones about it, the Intellivision version of Demon Attack is the definitive version of this game. It also drew a lawsuit from Atari, who had just licensed the arcade game Phoenix from Centuri (an American operation which had, in turn, licensed it from Taito in Japan). In a lot of ways, Phoenix and the Intellivision version of Demon Attack were very much alike – swooping alien attackers who split into two equally lethal halves when hit, and a Comet Empire-like alien mothership with only a single vulnerability (and an endless stream of defensive fighters to cover that weakness).
Atari was planning a version of Phoenix for the VCS, and probably would’ve produced it for the Atari home computers and the 5200 as well, and perhaps other systems like Intellivision through their Atarisoft division. But Imagic got there first. And Atari wasn’t happy about it.
But back to the game itself: anyone should be happy to have this game on their console. It has faster action than most gamers are accustomed to with the Intellivision, plus an attractive and inobtrusive background scene and nifty sound effects. Programmed by Gary Kato, Demon Attack on the Intellivision is almost a killer app game – the kind you’d buy the console just to play. And it certainly set the trend for Imagic as the third party game makers for the Intellivision; the company went on to release some of the best Intellivision games ever committed to a ROM chip in a plastic case.
And the lawsuit? It was quietly settled between Atari and Imagic, and involved keeping the mothership stage off of the 2600 version, thus ensuring that it didn’t compete with the 2600 version of Phoenix – which is all that Atari cared about. In the end, Atari didn’t even carry the game over to its other platforms; the 5200 would have to wait until 2002, and programmer Ronen Habot’s fine Castle Blast homebrew cartridge, to see a game even remotely comparable to Phoenix – and by that time, neither Atari nor Imagic (which folded and sold the rights to its games to Activision) were around to sue anybody.