The Steam sales from early July hit me, and I’m sure most of you, pretty hard. One of the games I purchased in my frenzy of mouse clicks is an indie game called Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony. Although I’m no expert at the top-down shoot-em-up genre, sometimes referred to as “bullet hell” games, I still enjoy them. Also, Jamestown takes American History and gives it a steam punk twist, can’t go wrong with that.
Jamestown is a scrolling shoot-em-up game similar to games like Sonic Wings and 1942. You take control of a small ship and avoid enemy fire as best as you can while trying to destroy everything in sight. While it is not a groundbreaking game, it offers a few different ships to pilot, some well designed levels and other small aspects that make it unique.
If you know your American History, you know that Jamestown is the first permanent settlement made by the English in what is now the good ol’ USofA. Jamestown takes history and turns it on its head. Playing as Sir Walter Raleigh, you escape your execution and hop in a spaceship, yes, a spaceship, and head over to the colony of Jamestown… on Mars. The Spanish have allied with the Martians (of course) and Raleigh is taking it upon himself to clean everything up and clear his name. This alternate history is a very fun one, and I laughed out loud when I saw little red coats on the ground firing their primitive weapons while I was raining lasers down from the sky.
Since Jamestown’s graphics are pixel based and don’t require a powerhouse for a PC, it is accessible to almost everyone. However, that is not to say the game is ugly. The pixel art in Jamestown is very well done. The levels, enemies and cut-scenes are all very pleasing to the eye and show a lot of detail. The art style is a great throwback to the 16-bit era, and reminds me of a little game I played back in the day (and still play) called Final Fantasy VI.
The soundtrack in Jamestown is a joy to listen to when you’re not busy concentrating on not getting shot in the face. The music consists of a mixture between the sweeping, orchestrated pieces you hear in western and colonial films mixed with elements you might hear in a fantasy movie or videogame. It’s kind of hard to explain, so imagine music to go along with a gang of outlaws attempting to rob a train on hover boards instead of horses.
Jamestown is pretty straightforward when it comes to the gameplay. It’s a vertical scrolling shoot-em-up and the point is to shoot the enemies down without getting shot. You start out with one ship, but as you progress through the game you unlock more, each one having its own unique ability. Perhaps the most interesting quirk the game has is the fact that you only die if a bullet hits the center of your ship. It can take a little while to adjust to letting bullets hit the wings, but you get used to it after a while.
The story mode consists of five average length levels, each with their own unique enemies and strategies. There are, however, also bonus stages for the masochistic of you out there. These stages give you certain objectives like survive for 60 seconds, or get a certain amount of points in a certain amount of time. The game might sound short, but it has high replay value if you start playing through the higher difficulties.
While the higher difficulties are nice, there is one thing I found very strange. If you’re playing through the game on normal it stops you after the third level and tells you the only way to unlock the fourth is to play through all the previous ones on a higher difficulty. The same is true for the fifth level. These later levels also don’t have the option of selecting a lower difficulty if you’re having trouble. You can argue that the developers want to force you to get better, but I feel like there are better ways of doing that than blocking players who might not have the skill or time to meet the challenge. You will eventually get through it, but it seems like this system defeats the purpose of having multiple difficulty levels. It’s also disappointing to play through a game on one difficulty setting, only to have the game force you to restart and chose another, before even finishing the game.
Once you look past the mess with the difficulty settings, the game get’s very addictive. After you’ve unlocked all of the ships you can go back and play any level with any ship, and there’s even a gauntlet mode where you can go through the entire game all at once. Also, after the singleplayer has given you all it can give, you can get some friends together to play some local co-op. One person can use the keyboard, one can use the mouse and you can hook up a couple controllers to get a good game going. The only downside to multiplayer is that there is no online component.
Jamestown ends up being one of those hidden gems most people will probably gloss over while looking through games to download. If you have some extra cash to burn, I highly recommend grabbing this title. While the force fed difficulty changes can be annoying, it is still a fun and addicting game for experienced shoot-em-up fans, even newcomers who are just getting their feet wet.