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Demon Attack (Atari 2600) artwork

Demon Attack (Atari 2600) review

"Devilishly great!"

Demon Attack asset
Silver Space Dinosaurs from Hell!

You should have paid closer attention at the last docking station, otherwise you might have noticed the damaged fuel tank that left you stranded on a barren ice planet. While tying a noose one fine snowy day to end your boredom, you find that you are not alone on this cold world. First you see leathery wings flapping in the distance, larger than any you've ever seen. After that you see something falling from the wings, and at first you think it's just droppings. Moments later, you realize the droppings are exploding on impact with the planet's surface... and that the wings are drawing closer to you. Though you are stranded without hope of rescue, something inside you urges you to push the noose away. You thank your lucky stars that your laser cannon is still operable as you grip the stick and revise your thoughts on dying: not without a fight.

None of Demon Attack's narrative arrives via cutscene. You don't spend twenty minutes watching your character shoot the breeze with his old aeronautics buddies or contemplating whether or not he'll make it home in time for little Katie's sixth birthday. Half of the story comes from the manual or the game box's blurb, the other half comes from your imagination. Narrative in Atari 2600 games was mostly external. The instructions filled you in with the details and you ran the storyline in your mind.

Developer Rob Fulop and Imagic knew this, and they used the written aspects of the narrative to grab your attention. Without a title or a setup, the game can visually be described as winged creatures defecating on a pyramid. The developers wanted you to know that you aren't up against angry birds, or even aliens. Your opponents were demons. DEMONS! In a sense, the title is a large part of the narrative, and an effective one at that. I still remember my thought process in the store, this game in my nine-year-old clutches: "Why battle Space Invaders when I could fight snarling beasts from the abyss?!" It seemed so thrilling and dangerous, almost blasphemous and unthinkable, that I had to have the game.

Demon Attack assetDemon Attack asset

What plays out isn't exactly an arcade romp through the "Ars Goetia." Three bird-like beings appear, one above another, with the lowest one dropping clusters of bombs upon you. Their wings beat to the rhythm of an incessant bloop..bloop..bloop, and a strategy should form the instant you take in this detail. Timing and precision are what Demon Attack is all about, and with creatures moving slowly and predictably, you won't have any problem dispatching them. Even with your motions limited to left and right, a modicum of skill should be ample in slaying the initial demons.

As you advance, the situation becomes hairier. You can still easily take out the second and third waves of demons, but you notice that with each new stage come unfamiliar features and constraints. Soon the demons split into to mini-demons when blasted. Kill one of the minis and its mate will give you chase, emitting and ear-splitting cry that will have you reaching for the volume control. Other irritants rear their heads, such as increased foe speed, making them more difficult to fell. To make matters worse, demnons' explosives will move along with them rather than drop straight down. Add a faster drop velocity, and effective dodging becomes a regular struggle.

Progressively, the challenge factor becomes hellish. With all the added constraints, survival becomes less assured and the experience more addictive and intense. It wouldn't be so without that operant word at the beginning of this paragraph: progressively. The slow transformation eases you into the toughness and teaches you how to deal with fresh threats. By the time you reach the more difficult waves, you will feel ready. Even though the game tries to crush your skull, it has enabled you through training, and you fight back with just as much ferocity and tenacity.

I've always loved Demon Attack. It didn't spin a complicated yarn, but the tale of survival against a legion of ancient evil in space grabbed my attention. The continuous climb in difficulty, which taught a much younger me to become a better player, kept my attention. I would play this game for hours as a kid, usually with the volume turned all the way down, and lose myself in the simple yet addictive mechanics. It's strange that a game about demons could be so heavenly.


JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (March 28, 2012)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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