Ah, Sir Walter Raleigh. He was quite the card back in his day. An explorer, he sailed the world in search of the legendary "El Dorado", because back then believing in a city of gold was the in thing to do. Eventually he had a bit of a falling out with the King of England, which is the polite way of saying that he was convicted of plotting to murder him. He was sentenced to death, sent to prison, released from prison, and then given permission to continue his explorations. Hooray.
Of course, he ended up back in jail before too long. Apparently Wally had a thing for attacking Spanish outposts, and this didn't endear him to the Spanish ambassador who convinced the king to reinstate Raleigh's death sentence.
If you've played Final Form Games' latest release, Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony, then you're no doubt familiar with a different spin on these events. According to the folks at Final Form, the crafty Mr. Raleigh escaped his prison in the Tower of London, hopped aboard his spaceship (a fine steam-punk contraption), and blasted off towards Mars to clear his name by unraveling the mystery of the lost colony of Roanoke. In his way were the combined forces of the Martian/Spanish alliance, the latter of which were still pretty miffed about that whole "ransack the village" thing.
Jamestown is a top-down, arcade-style shoot-em-up (shmup; also, yay hyphens!). It also falls into a sub-genre known as bullet-hell (more hyphens!). What this means is that over the course of the game you'll run into situations where there could be hundreds of blinking balls of death on the screen at any one time. Sometimes they're fired in patterns, sometimes they come at you with the fury and coordination of a thousand angry mosquitoes. This is somewhat mitigated by the player ship's hitbox being ridiculously small. Bullets can pass safely through parts of the ship without killing the player.
It all sounds daunting, and in later levels it is. Imagine a hundred games of dodgeball played at once, and all really, really fast and you'll start to understand. Jamestown is gentle in that it doesn't throw this all at players at once. There's a ramping difficulty curve, like training wheels for nerds. The normal difficulty setting will get you started, but you won't get to advance beyond level three. To access level four, you'll first need to clear the first three levels on 'difficult'. Access to level five requires smoking baddies on the first four levels on the 'legendary' setting.
Additional content can be unlocked at the in-game store using currency obtained by progressing through the game's levels. In addition to challenge maps, there are also additional ships, additional difficulties, and even a nonsensical spin on the game's story.
At the heart of any good shmup is the scoring system, and here that scoring system is augmented by Vaunt mode. Taking the place of the genre's more traditional bullet-clearing bomb, Vaunt operates in a manner similar to Giga Wing's "reflect force". Gathering gold from defeated enemies charges up the Vaunt meter. Fill the meter to capacity and it's shields up, Number One. Make it so! Any enemy fire that comes in contact with the shield are immediately canceled. Additionally, Vaunt provides both a damage and score multiplier, but it comes at a cost. As long as Vaunt is active the meter slowly drains, requiring more gold to be collected in order to keep it full.
The music of Jamestown is suitably epic, the kind of soundtrack that would inspire a brave soldier's call to arms in defending his home. He'd grab his musket and satchel and head off to battle (rhyming!), leaving a scared wife and confused child at home.
"You don't have to go," she'd say through the tears as he donned his rattiest-looking three-point hat, which just happens to go swimmingly with the poofy shirt and knickers combo, all the rage among the locals.
His response would be solemn, but sincere: "Yes, I do."
Maybe he'd tussle his young son's hair one last time before heading out the door, noting how much his boy looks like him. And then, at the end of the long dirt walkway, he'd turn ever so slightly, glancing past the musket slung over his shoulder to see the cottage door swing open as his wife runs to meet him. They share one last embrace and a slow, tender kiss before he gathers up his possessions, dusts himself off, and strides off to war. He's gangsta that way.
He writes for awhile, with letters that begin "My dearest so-and-so", until the third week on the front when an unfortunate incident with the business end of a cannon turns our hero into a gooey, sticky paste. Because that's what happens when you try to block a cannonball with your face: splat. (Maybe he was a soccer fan and had grandiose visions of bicycle kicks, in which case I'd have to completely rewrite this scenario. So, yeah. Cannonball. Face. Game over.)
Some time later his satchel is delivered to his grieving family, along with a folded flag to be passed down through generations, or at least it would be if we all didn't just suddenly forget that this is a game about a British colony in space and none of us are Mel Gibson. So substitute "satchel and flag" for "fancy red coat" and you get the idea.
Anyway, the music. Pretty sweet.
So, too, are the graphics, a throwback to the 16-bit era. The environments are bright and vibrant, like what you might expect to find in a Cave shooter. It's a marvelous collection of pixels arranged to form ships and shapes and other such things that you look at with your eyes... provided they weren't injured in one of those cannonball accidents we touched on three paragraphs ago. And that would truly be a shame, because the game, with its unique art style, is truly quite pretty.
The tl;dr summary:
It's evident in playing this game that the developers wanted not only to make a quirky shmup, but to make it good. They've succeeded in creating a game that's not only enjoyable, but also accessible to players ranging from the complete noob to the one credit clear (1cc) demigod. If you like shooters, are a fan of indie games, or dig good things in general, then a trip to Jamestown is totally worth your time.
Jamestown is available for $9.99 for PC download from Steam, Direct2Drive, and GamersGate. (Thanks to those who pointed out the omission!)
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