Platform: Xbox 360
Jamestown is a Danmaku, or “Bullet Hell” shooter, released recently for the PC via Steam. In general, it ticks all the boxes. Lots of projectiles that you can skilfully avoid or block? Check. Crazy plot? Checkety check! Unlockables and a replay value based on score chasing? Check! Due to the skill involved, it’s mainly for the twitch crowd, or those who masochistically enjoy frustration, but, as such, it’s an excellent example of the genre.
Gameplay is, effectively, standard bullet hell fare. There are four ship types (three of which are unlockable) with different play styles (Beam, for example, is the standard wide-weak, and narrow-strong, while Bomber requires a lot of skill, because the projectiles are weak, but they can explode with the secondary fire key), three buttons and the direction keys, you move round, avoiding projectiles and shooting enemies for score. Two fire modes will allow you to kill enemies efficiently, and, when you collect enough gears for points, your “Vaunt” meter will fill up, and you can hit the third key for a temporary shield, double points, and extra damage while you continue to gather points. Also, while it seems like the bullets are impossible to dodge, remember that, in bullet hell shooters, only the middle of your ship counts as a hit, and so you can dodge a lot more than you think.
One interesting mechanic they use is that, to complete the game, you have to progress both in levels and difficulty, for example, level 4 requires you to finish levels 1-3 on the second difficulty level before you can play it, and level 5 (the last) needs levels 1-4 finished on the 3rd difficulty level. There’s also a gauntlet mode (all levels allowed by the difficulty, only 2 continues), and bonus challenge levels to keep you busy, and, if you’re a completionist, you will try them. Finally, there is an unlockable Hardcore mode and “Farce” mode, which makes the wonderfully silly story (Walter Raleigh, on the run, goes to mars to fight the Spanish and Martians, to regain his honour) even more silly. So, as such, even though there are only 5 levels with about 5-10 minutes of play each, the difficulty levels, different play styles for ships, score chasing, and unlockables means that you may be playing for quite a while. I’ve got 3 hours of gameplay already, and, while I’ve got to the final level and completed a few challenges, there’s still three difficulty levels to go, plus the Gauntlet, the rest of the bonus levels to unlock, and I estimate that, for good players, there’s about 20 or 30 hours here. As someone who has completed the story (requiring you to play all 5 levels on the third difficulty), I cannot underestimate how much of a rush you get, simply for having achieved what at first feels very difficult, if not impossible.
There are a few minor niggles with the game, but these are mostly in the area of control. The keyboard controls are strictly eight direction, and so controlling the Gunner with keyboard is extremely difficult. Also, whoever thought space for the third button was better than C (primary fire Z, secondary fire X, vaunt… space?), wasn’t really thinking too well, and rebinding the keys is a mild annoyance, considering you have to do it each time you run the game. Mouse control can be a little slower, but is more responsive in general, while gamepad is a mix of the two.
Also, there is co-op, but it’s strictly local, with PC players able to play four player with one mouse, one keyboard, and two gamepads. It can get confusing, but is generally fun, and a little easier than going it solo.
While some people may not like sprite graphics, I’m personally a big fan of 2d done well, and Jamestown certainly fits the bill here. It’s reminiscent of an old arcade or Sega game, but with a steampunk flair, and the hand drawn story images give a good old school flavour. Ship design wise, there’s a good variety of themes, from tentacled martians, to robot gunboats, to ancient mechanisms, and it’s fairly clear what you can and can’t hit in game.
The soundtrack is quite stirring at times, and does a good job of giving that old arcade feel, with a hint of Steampunk. Game sounds themselves are as you’d expect from a 2d shooter (lots of thwpa-thwpa-thwpa and pew-pew-pew, with a nice background of explosions). Beyond that, there’s not really much to be said.
In short, Jamestown is a fun old school game that, for the price, shows excellent play time, replay value, and variety. Recommended for those with patience or reflexes, or people who just want to have fun while going “OhcrapdodgeshootdodgeVAUNTOhmygod hahahahaaa, I’m dead!”