Star Wars was a major cash cow for George Lucas. Among all the other things with Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader emblazoned on them, video games have become a major source of income for George. It almost seems like Lucas could make a game based on Han Solo going to the bathroom, and it'd sell by the truckload. Fortunately, most of the Star Wars games have been pretty good, but that makes the screw-ups that much worse. The Intellivision port of the Empire Strikes Back is one of those screw-ups.
Parker Brothers had already released the Atari 2600 version the year before, and I played it a lot as a kid. It actually was a pretty good Defender clone based one of the best scenes of the movie: the battle on Hoth. The goal is just to bring down as many Imperial Walkers as possible until all your Snowspeeders are shot down. There is plenty of technique added to the game. When damaged, you could land to repair the ship. Glowing target points randomly appear on the Walkers that will instantly destroy them when hit. Lasting for two minutes without getting hit will activate the Force, making you invincible for 20 seconds. The animation was smooth, and the control was tight. It's still a fun shooter even today. If I was to rate the 2600 version today, it would be worth a "B" easily.
Playing the Intellivision version, the first question that came to my mind was "What the hell happened?" I've gotten accustomed to the fact that Intellivision ports of games look and play more advanced than the 2600 versions. I had to strain to see graphical improvements in the Intellivision version of this game. Yes, the sprites for the Walkers and Snowspeeders are larger and more detailed slightly. Yes, the landscapes are craggier. Yes, the game moves faster.
Here are the problems. While the game moves faster, the animation had gotten extremely choppy. In fact, the choppy animation actually started to make me sick. The larger sprites for the AT-ATs may look slightly nicer; however, the sprites had become so large that it's almost impossible to maneuver around them without hitting them, and good luck trying to dodge their blasts. Finally, the controls had gotten incredibly slippery. Keeping the Snowspeeder going left without sliding down to the ground or up into a Walker's tailpipe is almost impossible. Coupled with the too-large sprites and the fast and choppy animation, playing the Intellivision version of Empire Strikes Back is like trying to play hockey on an ice rink that's too small without wearing skates.
The Intellivision version of the Empire Strikes Back is a Star Wars screw-up equal to the Rebel Assault games, Super Bombad Racing, and Jar Jar Binks. The only reason this game doesn't get an "F" is because the foundation was proven sound by the Atari 2600 version. If you have both systems, get the 2600 version. If the Intellivision is your only option ...