Monday, July 11

In case you haven't played it: Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony Review (PC)

If there's one genre that's never really endeared itself to me, it's the Shoot 'em-up. Whether you referred to these games as shmups or bullet hell, they all appeared and played the same to me. Even industry darlings like Ikaruga failed to engage me, so why bother sampling anything else that the genre has to offer ever again? I'm not sure if it was the pixel art, the testimonial from Rock, Paper, Shotgun, or some beautiful screenshots, either way Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony ended up as a purchase during the Steam Summer Camp Sale. There is a plot woven amongst the progressively-hellish levels, but it's hard to care for it when you've just spent the last three to five minutes dodging and shooting for your life.

The Good
Teach me how to love you - As above, I've rarely enjoyed any shmup that I've played throughout my lifetime. I can attribute that to two reasons:
  1. I like challenge, but not the bullet hell-brand of "seriously, how the shit am I supposed to navigate through this obstacle course of death without losing all of my lives and potentially two or three credits," challenge. 
  2. A lot of my friends were of the same persuasion, so there was very little chance that I would be playing these for any great amount of time as I usually prefer my AAA blockbusters when I'm playing solo.
The developers must have known about people like myself, because Jamestown does a great job of teaching you how to play. First of all, you're shown the "hitbox" for your chosen vehicle at the select screen: so you'll be fully aware of your ship's vulnerable area (note: you can only be killed by a direct hit). The alt-fire for each ship is also explained in the select screen and divided into two categories: standard and advanced. I trialled each and I rarely had much luck outside of ships from the standard category. Finally, Normal difficulty is only available for the first three levels, and while far from insurmountable, it made it very clear to me what enemies I needed to fear, when to "Vaunt" and other ways to protect my hitbox. It also allowed for me to grow in confidence; enough so to embrace "Difficult" and not run away in terror when I learnt that the last level can only be accessed after beating the first four on "Legendary" difficulty. I'm proud to say that I beat the campaign and I even managed to best a Gauntlet.

 Just breathe. You'll be fine.

Not just for n00bs - While Jamestown caters to novices and genre haters, it also has (what I imagine to be) more than enough challenge for bullet hell veterans. Five well-scaled difficulty levels, challenge packs and the Gauntlet awaits players with appropriate skill and dexterity. Gauntlets task players with beating every level in succession with the level-standard, two credits. Normal and Difficult Gauntlets end at the third and fourth levels respectively, the other three difficulty levels require you to finish the entire game. Challenge maps are usually timed survival trials, though several have some secondary objectives introduced such as flying through rings. For the record, I've beaten the Normal Gauntlet and three of the fifteen challenge maps. I've tried to do more, but I'm not quite there yet.

Unconventional beauty - Polygons be damned: Jamestown's wondrous landscapes and creatures - all rendered in hundreds of colourful pixels - won't fail to grab your attention. The action never stutters when the screen is ablaze with beams, lasers and aliens of all shapes and sizes. It's not only beautiful but functional as well.

Like a Boss - Each of Jamestown's boss fights are big, colourful and memorable. Whether it's the Lady of the Lake or a running battle with a drill mounted-train, be prepared to weave your way through more bullets then you'd find in a standard FPS campaign.

 Don't panic. I'm sure it didn't see you.

The way you move - Jamestown boasts mouse, keyboard and gamepad support. You'll only require three buttons for combat and even with a screen full of moving death, it never feels complicated. Deaths never comes cheaply, even in the final level where environmental obstacles are introduced. This game is hard, but you'll have no one to blame for your demise except yourself.  

The Bad
There is a story -  Like I said before, but it's told through static pixel art and green text. Jamestown's gameplay is so vibrant and hectic that the storybook narrative fails to keep up with it. By no means a deal breaker, but it is in a no way a reason to give this great game a go either.  

The Ugly
Local confusion - I understand that this is an indie game and the developers may not have had the budget to ship the game with decent netcode, but who plays local multiplayer on their PC? Don't get me wrong, Jamestown is a brilliant game; but online co-op would have made it nothing less than an essential experience.

The question of length - Even after having to replay the earlier levels on a higher difficulty to progress, Jamestown's campaign can be conquered in less than three hours. Hell, if you're any good at these games you could do it in far less time than it took me. I can't recommend this game highly enough, but you should know that it won't last you very long.


The Verdict
Jamestown had everything going against it: a difficult shmup on PC without pretty graphics and modern effects. Against the odds, it proved to be more fun than my five dollars deserved. It can be run on a system with very modest specs with just about any peripheral. It is riotous fun alone - I can only imagine how good it would be with company - and a quality learning experience as well. It pretty much demands to be played by anyone: bullet hell lover or not.  

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