|Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony|
|Genre||Alternate history shooter|
|Buy from Steam|
It’s been years since I played a shoot ‘em up. I bought Ikaruga during college basically as a blind buy, and Steve and I played a ton of four player Giga Wing 2 on the Dreamcast, but since then? Well, I played the first hour of Pocky & Rocky... that’s about it. I partially blame this on my system of choice being the DS for the last few years, and also because I’m not very good at the genre. Bullet hell is a term for a reason.
But I was gifted Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony during the Steam Summer Sale (thanks Rowan Kaiser, writer at The A.V. Club), so I had the obligation to return to the shmup, essentially kicking and screaming. I knew very little about the just released indie shooter, so here are the quick details: Jamestown is an alternate history story of early American settlers on Mars. Suspension of belief required. Just imagine 17th century Europeans had spaceships and decided to settle Mars instead of North America.
Also know this: Jamestown is a great game, here’s my review.
I’m far from a shmup historian, but it’s apparent to even me that the story and setting is kind of back-burner material in the genre. The ones that I’ve played have either featured essentially nothing for plot, or some obtuse, out of this world contrivance that mostly just has you spamming the A button to skip. Surprisingly, Jamestown doesn’t fall into either category.
The alternate history idea is rightfully absurd, but seeing the early American stories of Roanoke and Spanish Conquistadors play out with spaceships gives me glee. This isn’t a joke tossed in for a setting, this is a complete translation of events filtered through a steampunk lens. It is really kind of wonderful. Some of my favorite bits are little guys in the background with muskets fending off the bad guys. The little graphical touches coupled with a feisty American musical score make Jamestown incredibly memorable.
Speaking of the score, it could be the game’s best aspect in a title full of awesomeness. Being an auto-scrolling shooter, the developers could time all the musical cues perfectly with the action, creating an involving aural experience. But even with a set of great songs, my favorite tune was a 15 second ditty that played after you beat each level.
But the most important aspect of a shmup is of course the gameplay, and Jamestown has had its controls tightened up quite a bit. Jamestown actually allows you to use a gamepad, so I plugged in my PS2 controller and alternated between using the D-pad and the thumbstick to varying degrees of success (the gamepad process was INCREDIBLY simple by the way, if only every PC game made it this easy). After hours of playing, I don’t think I could blame a single death on the controls, which is pretty much all you can ask from a game: get out of the way.
Facing off against the Spanish armada on Mars is simple, there’s a main and secondary fire, and then a Vault technique that shields you for a few seconds and then doubles your multiplier as long as you keep collecting the cash that is released from destroyed ships. Collecting coins also allows you to use your Vault, so there’s added depth from having to make that decision on whether it’s worth zipping through a wall of bullets to potentially max out your Vault meter. I usually went for it, which might have been part of my downfall.
Most of the game’s replayability comes from the five difficulty levels and four ship types, giving shmup gamers of any skill level the ability to succeed. The basic ship shoots bullets in a wide spread as its main and then a focused, vertical beam as the secondary weapon. This is definitely the easiest vehicle to use, and the most familiar. Jamestown also features a bomber that tosses small explosives with the main cannon and then explodes on demand with the secondary, and a sort of blob tosser that is hard to describe and rather enjoyable to unleash.
The real unique draw is the gunner ship, which allows you to change the direction of your main fire by pressing secondary fire while moving in the direction you want to shoot. Confusing, but it allows you to fire in any direction at whim. It’s a challenge to use, but I can only assume very rewarding once it is mastered.
Finally, Jamestown features a bunch of short challenge missions with simple objectives like to stay alive for X seconds or collect all the rings. It’s obvious a lot of fun was had putting these together, particularly the super explodey ones that challenge you to survive for just 15 to 20 seconds!
My biggest complaint is that Jamestown is designed to be a four player game at its heart, but doesn’t support any kind of online multiplayer. Local multiplayer is simple and easy to use, but that hasn’t even been a consideration of mine since college. Disappointing, but it’s obvious there would be many technical hurdles to cross. Would love to see it someday, however.
Jamestown also shows off its old school heritage in an odd way: you can not complete the game on the two easiest difficulties. Playing on easy only unlocks the first three stages, the next level up four, and then finally the medium difficulty allows you to face down the final boss. It’s an odd decision, and seems like the only reason it would have been done is as a throwback to a more difficult age. Nonetheless, I did manage to beat the game on medium and take down most of it on hard. For an even greater challenge, you can play the gauntlet mode that forces you to play every stage in a row with limited lives and continues. Tough stuff.
Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony is an excellent game. I enjoy a shoot ‘em up here or there, but really dug into this one. The art style is excellent, the setting and story is absurd but super entertaining, and the controls and gameplay are very well executed. Online multiplayer is the only major feature Jamestown is lacking, and for $10, this is a must own for any PC gamer.