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The Game Effect Review

Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony Review

This 17th century steampunk shooting romp is worth your time.

By Dylan Coffey on 12/17/2011
On Tuesday, it was our pleasure to make you privy to the charitable  Humble Indie Bundle #4, including seven games of top quality for which the buyer names the price. This writer took advantage of the bundle just before that article was written and delved the same night in to  Jamestown, a semi-bullet hell shoot-'em-up set in the 17th century wherein British heroes battle against the Spanish/Martian alliance, led by the enigmatic Conquistador. The absolute absurdity of the storyline hardly comes to mind as the saga plays out, however, partially because it is so well-executed but mostly because the game is too fun and engaging to question to the historical veracity of John Smith blasting aliens on a spaceship.

Gameplay

 Jamestown  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.

 Embedded Image 

 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.

 Embedded Image 

 In some cases,   Jamestown  definitely qualifies as "bullet hell." 

 Jamestown   has only five levels, but it implements a somewhat frustrating but effective method for both expanding the game's length and escalating difficulty to encourage player growth.  Jamestown  offers five tiers of difficult: Normal, Difficult, Legendary, Divine, and Judgment. Ascending difficulty levels affect respawn times, enemy firepower, and the challenge level of bullet patterns. In order to force players to increase their own skills, only the first three levels are available on the Normal difficulty; furthermore, in order to play the fourth level, the first three must be cleared on Difficult. The fifth level repeats this in that it is available only on Legendary and above, requiring that the first four levels be cleared on Legendary. Judgment difficulty is available only after all levels have been cleared on Divine; Judgment brings the "bullet hell" characteristics of the game to the forefront for an engaging niche experience.

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.

 Embedded Image 

 From left to right: Gunner, Beam, Charge, and Bomber ships. 

Aesthetics

 Jamestown   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.

 Embedded Image 

 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 Impression

 Jamestown   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.
The Good
  • Great co-op gameplay that invokes tension is "One Alive
  • Excellent aesthetic direction
  • Great range of difficulty from beginner to "OH SHI-
The Bad
  • Local co-op only
  • Only five levels
  • Replaying levels can become repetitive
9.0
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USER COMMENTS
You must be logged in to vote. You must be logged in to vote. 2
sunsedrengen on January 01, 2012
Got it from the humble indide bundle 4 its awesome to play 2 or more. SO STRESSFUL!
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Elleyena on December 27, 2011
So far I've been enjoying this game. I'm happy that steam made an achievement for the great gift pile. I had almost forgotten that I had it.
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Merfyz on December 18, 2011
I have yet to play this game, but i do own it. This article convinced me to try it.
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