It’s been a long time — a seemingly eternity, really — since my mind had reason to focus on America’s earliest days. Sure, I love the works of Thomas Paine, but those philosophical and political pieces don’t dig into the minutiae of colonial and pre-colonial times. Likewise, Final Form Games’ Jamestown doesn’t detail John Smith’s and Sir Walter Raleigh’s adventures in a settlement that would evolve into Virginia –it details John Smith’s and Sir Walter Raleigh’s Martian adventures to hunt down a crazed Spanish conquistador in a delightful 2D shmup.
Yes, it’s an absurd premise for an absurd genre. Jamestown is a bullet hell shooter, a 2D shmup category that sees screen-filling projectile curtains hurling toward you. The 2D game differs from other games in its genre in that it supports four-player co-op that emphasizes a light form of teamwork. As long as one player survives the enemy onslaught, the other players can be resurrected (the length of time before you can rez increases with the difficulty). That last remaining player enters “Caution Mode,” which helps you (theoretically) stay alive a wee bit longer by displaying your ships actual hit box. Hardcore shmuppers won’t need the assistance, but it may prove beneficial to casuals. The only downside to multiplayer mode is that it’s 4-player local co-op. That means you’ll probably need a sizable monitor, a few chairs, and some deodorant.
And Jamestown is a game that you’ll want to play with friends. Most bullet hell shooters cater to nerds who seek the relentless bullet abuse, but Jamestown is surprisingly friendly to genre-noobs. The lower difficulty levels let players make things go boom without fretting over an insane amount of incoming projectiles, thus giving them the opportunity to dive into the play mechanics. The higher difficulty levels? Those will fuel several controller-throwing moments.
Enemy ships explode into cogs as you bring them down–make certain to collect those parts before they tumble off-screen. They power your ship’s Vaunt gauge, a meter that when filled, lets you activate Vaunt mode. This has multiple purposes: your firepower does 1.5X damage, you get a 2X multiplier bonus, and you get a shield that destroys incoming enemy firepower. Vaunt quickly vanishes, however, so make the most of your time with it and rack up the huge numbers. It’s a mechanic that requires you to sometimes charge full-on into enemy waves –it’s a thrilling play style that harkens back to Takumi shooters such as GigaWing and Mars Matrix. All of the four selectable ships move a bit slowly (not R-Type slow!) so don’t expect speedy exchanges as you zip between clusters.
Jamestown features highly-detailed, well-animated sprites that harken back to SNK’s ’90s output. In fact, between the projectiles, enemy ships, and foot soldiers, it’s very easy to get lost in the visuals which drip in retro 2D love–it’s like a shmuppy version of Metal Slug. Shmups aren’t known for their plots, but Jamestown tells its interesting back story through a series of stills that look very much like classical paintings. Orchestral music, scored by Francisco Cerda, adds to the thrilling sense of adventure with its energetic percussion, incredible choral arrangements, and moving strings. The tracks sound as though they were ripped from a film score–something I’ve griped about in the past–but it works here. The final stage’s music is absolutely incredible; you will feel like an interplanetary hero.
Some will inevitably gripe about Jamestown‘s length; you can finish the game in about half an hour. But this is a shmup, a manic shmup, so replaying it for big scores and one-credits means a hefty dose of “replay value.” Jamestown is $10 on Steam. Get it. It’s an excellently crafted 2D shooter designed for hardcore gamers who thrive on the bullet-dodging adrenaline rush the genre delivers.