When I picked up the Bedlam cartridge to insert into my trusty (28 years and still going strong) Vectrex, I had no idea what to expect. I envisioned some sort of game based on the origins of the word “Bedlam” with inmates running loose in an asylum. As is often the case, I was completely wrong. Instead, what I got was a response to a common video game problem.
Atari’s 1981 release of Tempest into arcades introduced gamers to one of the greatest vector games ever produced. Unfortunately for Vectrex owners, that landmark game was unavailable to them. GCE must have realized that Tempest would be a big draw for gamers to their system. But, if Tempest was unavailable, then they’d need to create something similar. Not so similar as to get themselves sued, but similar enough to capitalize on a good concept. Bedlam is what they came up with.
Now, I’m reviewing Bedlam, not Tempest. But, if you ask me, Tempest is a great arcade game for two reasons. It has lightning fast action and a specialized knob controller that allows for just the right amount of precision. Bedlam has got the fast paced action – but is forced to make due with the Vectrex joystick.
Bedlam’s concept is that you’re the pilot of a starship, defending your galaxy from incoming alien colonists. In Tempest, you maneuver your ship around the outside of a shape – shooting at approaching enemies heading OUT toward you. In Bedlam, you rotate from a fixed position in the center of the screen, shooting at approaching enemies heading IN toward you. Your ship bears no small resemblance to the Millennium Falcon. I guess the folks at GCE figured if they were going to run the risk of getting sued over Tempest, they might as well go out and risk getting sued by Lucasfilm.
Bedlam has different enemy types, each of which behaves in a unique fashion, allowing you to respond to the approaching horde with some degree of strategy. The main problem with the game lies in the button layout and joystick performance. The Vectrex joystick makes it easy enough to rotate and fire. But, there’s additional buttons to speed your rotation – and use smart bombs that kill everything on the screen. The smart bomb button is okay, but the button that speeds your rotation is right next to the fire button. They’re hard to use simultaneously. And, then there’s the problem of the joystick. It simply lacks the precise control that you really want when shooting at the incoming aliens. Tempest’s arcade solution is much more satisfying. I can’t help but wonder if home versions of Tempest on other systems suffer from the same joystick issue.
So, to sum up, what we’ve got is a decent game, somewhat marred by challenging controls. That was going to be my full review. And yet, I found myself going back to Bedlam for one game after another. Despite the control frustrations, I was having a very good time –and wanted to keep trying the game again and again. It’s not perfect – but this is a surprisingly addicting little game for the Vectrex. I recommend checking it out.