Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony Review
This 17th century steampunk shooting romp is worth your time.
GameplayJamestown is loyal to shoot-'em'up conventions for the most part, though its inclusion of local multiplayer co-op is rare within the genre. This co-op is the game's greatest feature; instead of including a normal "lives" system, Jamestown implements what is called a "One Alive" system of continuation. As long as a single player remains alive, the entire team can continue. Respawn times for downed allies range from 5 to 20 seconds depending on difficulty, and are often cut short by the frequent presence of Revive One and Revive All drops.
Player survivability is further enhanced by the Vaunt system. As enemies are slain they drop gold in various amounts; collecting this gold charges a player's Vaunt meter. Once activated, Vaunt gives a large shield against bullets for a few seconds, as well as increased firepower and double score gains while the meter slowly drains. The meter can still be filled once active, and bonus points are gained proportional to the active time of the Vaunt mode when it finally runs out. The draining meter can be activated again for another, much smaller burst of shield; this gives full bonus points for the duration achieved but prevents refilling the meter for a few seconds afterwards.
Above : The "Vaunt" ability protects both players from attacks.
The game features a boss for each of its five levels, and the design of these bosses is varied, engaging, and fun. Many encounters adjust themselves to the number of players; for example, a particular large mechanic enemy has color-coded targets that must be eliminated by the correct player on the team. This encourages teamwork and communication, which enhances the fun factor for a game that unfortunately boasts only local co-op. This is a forgivable sin, however, considering the insane quality of netcode that would be required to sustain synchronicity in a fast-paced game like Jamestown.
Players will be glad for the Vaunt mechanic when presented with the more "bullet hell" inspired segments of the game, particularly in the title's Challenge levels. These Challenge levels represent the game's appeal to fans of niche "bullet hell" titles such as Radiant Silvergun or Perfect Cherry Blossom. Like traditional bullet hell style shoot-'em-ups, the player's hitbox is only a single pixel in the center of the sprite. This single pixel is difficult to protect, however, against the massive curtains of bullets that fall upon the user in the game's higher difficulties.
In some cases, Jamestown definitely qualifies as "bullet hell."
Each one of the the first three levels, when cleared, grants the player(s) access to a new type of ship via the game's Shoppe. Players begin with access to the Beam ship, which boasts a 60 degree cone of fire with its standard weapon and a powerful focused beam which also slows the ship as a secondary weapon. The Gunner, available after the first level is cleared, has a vanilla front-firing standard weapon. However, the Gunner's special weapon is a fairly wide, high rate-of-fire gun that can be "locked in" to any direction with the use of the special weapon key, making the Gunner the only ship able to fire sideways or behind itself. The Charge is the "heavy" ship of the game, with constant movement speed equal to the speed of the Beam employing its special weapon. However, the Charge can fire a huge ball of energy that inflicts multiple highly damaging hits on enemies in its path and which remains on screen for several seconds, making this ship ideal for clearing large groups of enemies or killing single hard targets quickly. Finally, the Bomber has a front-firing standard weapon, but pressing the special weapon button detonates all on-screen standard shots from that ship, causing immense damage to enemies.
From left to right: Gunner, Beam, Charge, and Bomber ships.
AestheticsJamestown boasts a hard-to-place art style that does not seem to pull too directly from any particular source. Its pixel-based graphics are sharp and easily processed during the action as well as possessing an old-school charm that is difficult to replicate. The illustrations during story sequences are beautiful and, according to the game's credits, created on a very short time frame - a fact not at all evident in their impressive appearance.
The story itself is not particularly impressive, but for a game like Jamestown in the shoot-'em-up genre, it certainly beats "You know what you doing, take off every zig." The writing for the story segments is solid and communicates well the 17th century steampunk style of the game, and each level boasts a short splash screen with statements such as the first levels, "in which a Settlement is ravaged by Betentacled Martians and a Villain is Revealed." Little aspects like this keep the Jamestown flavor consistent during the game. Also featured in the Shoppe is a "Farce Mode," which this writer has not yet been able to assemble the funds for, that "lightens up" the game's story.
Beautiful splash screens introduce the 17th century steampunk story of Jamestown.The visual design of the player's enemies and ships are excellent; great detail is given to small aspects of animations, such as the player pilot's hair whipping in the wind or the flickering and swelling of bombs that are about to explode. Jamestown really captures the feel of the 16-bit shoot-'em-up in a way that fans of Raiden or Xevious should deeply appreciate while also putting its own signature 17th century steampunk spin on the game's appearance.
Musically, Jamestown boasts orchestral tunes appropriate to the 17th century setting blended with conservative drum-and-bass undertones. Victory screens included jaunty tunes that elicit thoughts of Thanksgiving rather than arcade action - and this is clearly intentional as part of the game's steampunk conceit. The sound effects of Jamestown are crisp and potent, punctuating each explosion (player-wrought or otherwise) with appropriately dramatic noises. The game also does a great job with the always-important "pew pew" sounds for player weapons; as these will be firing nonstop, it is essential that those noises not become grating on the ears as well as that they not obscure audio cues to gameplay elements.
Overall ImpressionJamestown is a very solid shoot-'em-up that is at its best by far when played with friends. While the challenge of gathering other games together to play a PC game in the same room is greater than it would be on, say, a console, it is certainly worth the effort to form such a war party and bring the fight to the Spanish/Martian alliance. Jamestown is a complex title that reveals its depth bit-by-bit to the player, making it a perfect introduction to both the shoot-'em-up and bullet hell genres for any gamer looking to expand her or his horizons. It is more than worth its $9.99 price tag - and as we mentioned before, it can be acquired at a steal as part of Humble Indie Bundle #4, the proceeds of which also benefit charity. In short, Jamestown is everything an indie game needs to be to succeed: innovative within the bounds of an established genre, fun while offering a great challenge, and accessible to gamers of all experience levels. This writer recommends Jamestown without reservation.
- Great co-op gameplay that invokes tension is "One Alive
- Excellent aesthetic direction
- Great range of difficulty from beginner to "OH SHI-
- Local co-op only
- Only five levels
- Replaying levels can become repetitive