By Evan Norris 14th Dec 2019 | 2,575 views
Jamestown+ seems like the start of an improv sketch. "Name a genre, a place, and a historical figure." How about shoot 'em up, Mars, and Sir Walter Raleigh? That's the game in a nutshell: a vertically-scrolling shooter set on the red planet in the 17th century. An expanded version of 2011's Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony, it's a handsome, versatile, and replayable shooter that regrettably locks some content behind higher difficulty settings.
A weird and wild mixture of American colonial history and science fiction, Jamestown+ operates in a universe where English and Spanish forces have colonized Mars in the 1600s. Raleigh, an Englishman in the "New World" on the run from agents of the crown, decides to join the war effort against the Spanish and their Martian allies in order to find redemption. Based loosely on real historical figures like Raleigh, John Smith and Virginia Dare, and sporting 17th century fixtures transported 140 million miles away to Phobos and Deimos, the game's story is impossible, absurd, and entirely fascinating.
Jamestown+, a top-down vertical shooter, will be familiar to anyone who's played Galaxian, 1942, or TwinBee. You'll take control of a "Conveyance", a rocket-sled with powerful weapons, in a series of short scrolling levels populated with Spanish robots, Martian warriors, and, believe it or not, pirate cyber-crabs. To survive you must destroy your enemies, avoid deadly bullets that explode like confetti across the screen, and face off against giant bosses.
What makes the game work, above all else, is its accessible, snappy gameplay. Apart from the analog stick, Jamestown+ requires only three button commands: Fire, Special Attack, and Vaunt. It's immediately approachable, even for players unfamiliar with shoot-em-ups. The basic flow of each level, laid out in detail in an optional tutorial, is equally comprehensible: collect gears dropped from defeated enemies to charge a "vaunt" meter, and then deploy it at the right time to create a shield that dissolves nearby bullets, and increase your firepower and score multiplier. Paired with fluid movement and tight controls, it's a game suitable for players of all skill levels—to a point.
Although it begins with a gradual learning curve, ultimately Jamestown+ can be punishingly difficult, particularly amid the bullet hellscape of its final campaign stage. The game provides several levels of difficulty—which is great—but then makes the counter-productive decision to block certain levels behind higher difficulties. Chapters one and two can be played on any setting, but chapter three becomes playable only if the preceding two episodes are completed on "Difficult". Similarly, players can access chapters four and five only if all previous levels are finished on "Legendary". This is a mistake; it lowers the value of lesser difficulty settings, prevents entry-level players from seeing all the game has to offer, and adds some repetitive grinding.
In the same vein, the game's 'shoppe' seems like a way to encourage and reward excessive grinding. Only by playing through the game's seven stages repeatedly can you earn enough gold to unlock every Conveyance, shot, and mode.
The game's tendency toward backtracking and grinding is strange because for a shoot-em-up it boasts a healthy amount of content. In addition to the original title's five campaign levels, it includes two levels set on Mars' moons, 12 ships, 20 challenge levels, five difficulty settings, online leaderboards, and a couple of optional modes. Furthermore, it includes support for four-player local co-op—although no online multiplayer at this time.
In addition to new content, Jamestown+ sports level layout and bullet pattern tweaks, remastered 5.1 surround sound music and effects, and new background and enemy artwork. Even without its audiovisual refinements, this shooter would look and sound fantastic. With meaty, detailed sprites, cascading gold, and colorful explosions, it's a delight for the eyes that brings to mind scrolling shooters from the NeoGeo and Saturn days. Its orchestral score, organized by Francisco Cerda, is sweeping and epic and worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster.
Jamestown+ is an unlikely combination of mechanics, situations, and characters, but in the end all that matters is that it's a quality shoot-em-up. Its approachable mechanics and four-player co-op make it ideal for groups, its different modes and settings grant it staying power, and its graphical and audio assets provide plenty of charm. Bullet hell levels can be arduous and backtracking gameplay tedious, but these faults shouldn't stop aspiring explorers from planting their flags in this solid shooter.