Face Down Mars Up: Jamestown Released

By Quintin Smith on June 9th, 2011 at 1:01 pm.

Where do the residents of Jamestown drink? At the Mars B-- no I can't do it

“Mars is waiting! Bring your friends!”

We don’t get a great deal of scrolling shmups or top-notch pixel art here on the PC, so I’m very excited about indie title Jamestown: The Lost Colony, which came out just yesterday (Steam, Direct2Drive, GamersGate). It’s set in a 17th century colony on Mars. Your enemies are an alliance of Martians and Spanish Conquistadors. It has up to four player co-op (on the same PC). Do you know, I could only be more excited if it had a soundtrack by a classically trained composer from Santiago, Chile. Oh wait! It does! Tell you what, I’m gonna have a bit of a play and post some impressions after the jump.

Both the developers of Jamestown and RPS reader Jim “The Last Biceps” Crawford dropped me an email to let me know this game was released, and while they were at it, both of them described two different features of this game that are worth mentioning.

In their press release, the devs were eager to talk about the way the game handles co-op. Rather than giving each player a limited cache of lives, as is traditional, Jamestown instead follows the mechanic we’ve been seeing in modern co-op FPS games. Which is to say, so long as one of you survives, he can bring the team back to life, making for a friendlier, more dramatic experience. Smart move.

But I’m even more impressed by the aspect of Jamestown that Crawford talked about. Ah, heck. I’m already nicking his ideas. I’m just gonna quote him wholesale.

Notably, Jamestown is designed to be accessible to players new to the scrolling shooter genre — the easiest difficulty really is *easy* — but the goal of the game isn’t to just give these players a fun ride and then let them move on. The goal is to make new genre fans.

The ramp up is gentler than any other genre entry I’ve seen, but much of the content is locked until you start playing well at higher difficulties. If you’ve played shooters before you shouldn’t have a problem, but for new players it’s going to be a climb, and unless you’ve already got some twitch game chops it’ll probably be very steep.

Which is a fantastic thing for a bullet hell shmup to chase. If you’ve ever tried to sink some time into one of the hardcore Japanese shmups, you’ll know it’s an experience not unlike trying to open a fridge with your face. Jamestown, however, offers five difficulty settings ranging from total beginner to grandmaster, and by the time you’re playing the final couple of levels on one difficulty setting, you’ll be ready to start playing the game again on the next difficulty setting up. Perfect.

Don't stop firing until you see the whites of the high score screen, lads!

As for the game proper, it’s just a class act. The range of enemies, the design of them, the placing of them, the way they burst in a shower of nuts and bolts that you’ll want to collect, the way the guns feel, the music, the pacing, it’s all fabulous.

You’ll want to collect those nuts and bolts before they go tumbling off the screen because they’re what power up your Vaunt. Vaunt is the special power you have alongside your chosen ship’s primary and secondary attack, and it’s very much Jamestown’s special mechanic that all scrolling shmups must, by law, have.

By collecting these bolts and gears and whatnot, you quickly fill your Vaunt gauge. When you activate Vaunt a large shield is drawn around your character, and not only do any enemy projectiles that hit it vanish, but they also give you points. This shield quickly shrinks, however, leaving you unprotected again. It’s a fun mechanic. To collect the bolts you often have to leave your comfort zone to go weaving across the screen to them, but ultimately, it’s Vaunt that’ll also keep you safe when the really ugly bursts of bullets arrive.

About the only problem with Jamestown, and this depends entirely on your perspective, is its length. While it boasts some twenty nightmarish little remixed bonus levels, the main campaign is only five levels long, and each of those can be completed in about four minutes. Of course, this is a game designed around the attraction of going back and mastering those levels on higher difficulites and only one credit, on more nuanced ships, but it still might come as a nasty shock to anybody expecting something that might take them even an hour to play through.

So there you have it. Jamestown. It’s playful, open to everyone, beautiful and short. A friendly little firework of a game, available for a mere £6.49. Think about it.

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54 Comments »

  1. Petethegoat says:

    So, what’s the current progress on opening that fridge?
    My research teams have established that the most effective method will likely involve leveraging the handle with your nose. I sent a different team with orders to try and use their tongues, but… I… haven’t heard back from them.

    • brog says:

      Bloody easy, just tried it. Grip the handle in your teeth and pull, nothing more to it than that. You may need to brush it the rest of the way open with your cheek.

      If you don’t use your teeth it’s a bit harder, but I find my chin slots into the handle comfortably enough. May be more difficult if you don’t have a giant beard.

    • westyfield says:

      Yep, teeth is the way to go. Unless you have a Smeg (tee hee!) fridge, which for some reason are mad bastard hard to open.

    • Plivesey says:

      In my world, teeth belong in the mouth, not as part of my face. You gamers must be crazy looking people! :P

    • Niche93 says:

      In my world, the mouth belongs in the face, not as part of my feet. You Plivesey must be a crazy looking person! :P

    • anonymousity says:

      Yeah I just went and tried to open my fridge with my face suspecting it would be terribly easy and it was.

  2. Gap Gen says:

    Does the setting reflect at all on the gameplay? It kinda looks like a regular bullet hell game with an interesting background.

  3. Atic Atac says:

    I always open my fridge with my face. Must be why I like bullet hell shooters…

    And this game really is absolutely fantastic.

  4. Shaid says:

    Part of my brain rebels* at seeing a SHMUP in 16:9… Still, I might buy this. Where’s my X-Arcade?!

    “I didn’t make you buy a monitor that rotates 90 degrees for this! Raaargh. Oooh, is that a hamburger? Okay, carry on!” – being in my head is weird.

  5. mashakos says:

    can someone confirm if this game has resolution settings? I can’t buy yet another indie game with a fixed 640×480 resolution xP

    • johnpeat says:

      Not seen a game with that rez for decades…

      1024×768 now…

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      I was able to record in 1280×720 by manipulating the size of the window and it has several aspect ratio options so yes, you can change the resolution.

    • ulix says:

      Has three options:

      Pixel Perfect: “Fills as much of the screen as possible while preserving aspect ratio and clean pixel scaling” (you’ll likely have a letterbox with this, don’t know what the native resolution is…)

      Proportional Stretch: “Fills as much of the screen as possible while still preservin the aspect ratio” (which is 16:9, or might be 16:10)

      Crazy Stretch: “Fills entire window, disregarding aspect ratio”

    • mashakos says:

      that’s great! I hope there is an option for bilinear filtering.
      I’m one of those old farts who was around when so called “pixel art” games were all the rage and bilinear filtering was a killer feature that was highly sought after. “pixellation” was a negative term that earned a game a lot of negative points in magazine reviews…

  6. Anthile says:

    Why no proper online coop? :(

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      Netcode is not as easy as ya make it sound.

    • johnpeat says:

      I suspect because adding online co-op means dealing with the horde of dolts who can’t setup their own network and whine endlessly that it’s not working for them regardless…

      Alternatively, you have a similar crowd of people who demand this feature DESPITE knowing full-well they have no idea how to make it work either – tough choice…

    • brog says:

      The Waves guy blogged about this a week or so ago – http://www.squidinabox.com/2011/05/the-cutting-room-floor/#more-384
      Basically, online stuff is hard and laggy, and shmups are based on rapid, precise movements and so aren’t suited for an environment with ANY LAG WHATSOEVER. FPS games get away with it with a lot of complicated clever hackery that doesn’t really generalise to most other types of games (it helps that most bullets are invisible and hit instantaneously), and RTS games get by with a delay before your units respond to input.

    • johnpeat says:

      What brog says – lag prediction and the fact that fps’s can deal with 100ms lag which a shooter like this couldn’t even remotely do.

    • Anthile says:

      Fine. I hope you’re all happy now that you’ve crushed all my dreams. I bought it anyway.

  7. pakoito says:

    Spaniards being the bad guys? what a cliché. Anyway I’ll buy and play :D

  8. Magnetude says:

    …that’s the way we like to shmup!

  9. Crimsoneer says:

    Quinns, I love you for that subtitle.

  10. CoyoteTheClever says:

    Actually, the PC gets a ton of schmups. They are just all fan translated Japanese games, so not necessarily the kind of news RPS covers =P

    • Dominic White says:

      Yeah, the PC has gotten hundreds int the past decade, but very few have been in english. Of course, this doesn’t matter in the slightest, as an arcade shooter doesn’t need any language skills to play.

    • Crimsoneer says:

      Any highlights we should check out?

    • Jad says:

      @Crimsoneer
      I don’t pretend to be anything of an expert on Japanese PC shmups, but the Touhou Project seems like a good place to start:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Touhou_Project
      http://en.touhouwiki.net/wiki/Touhou_Wiki

      Those articles might be a little overwhelming at first, as its one guy who’s been making a shmup or two every year for around 15 years, so there’s a lot of Touhou games out there, and they all have crazy names.

      I enjoyed Perfect Cherry Blossom. I haven’t played all of them, so maybe there are better Touhou games, but its a fine start at least. You could also pick up anything that sounds interesting and try it out, they’re free (or at least shareware, I believe) and small downloads.

    • squareking says:

      @Crimsoneer and other interested parties…many fantastic titles listed here:

      http://www.sk8tokyo.com/shmup/

      Especially Crimzon Clover, Samidare, Reflex and the Touhou titles. I’d also search for Hellsinker (if you like pain), Blue Wish Resurrection, Hydorah, Kamui and Cho Ren Sha 68k.

      There’s also MAME to consider, which has a wealth of genre-defining games.

    • ulix says:

      I second Hydorah: http://www.locomalito.com/juegos_hydorah.php

      I also recommend “White Butterfly” and “GArden of Coloured Lights” by Linley, they have an amazing (and unique) art style.

    • Ahnteis says:

      Not a translation, but I love Jets N Guns.
      http://jng.rakeingrass.com/
      (I actually liked the original before the “gold” version more, but it’s good either way.)

      It’s a bit old so not sure what resolution options there are, but you can run it from a flash drive/portable drive so there’s that. :)

    • raddevon says:

      Can anyone recommend more shmups with multiplayer? My wife and I are tearing through this thing!

    • sandjack says:

      There are a fair number out there that you can play together, but not a lot of true co-op that I’ve found. A lot of shmups allow for 2player play — I think most of the CAVE ones do but you often end up stepping on each others toes.

      In terms of 4player, I can point you to gigawing 2 on the dreamcast.

      Also, if you’re looking for a fun 2player competitive game, try to track down a saturn and a copy of Twinkle Star Sprites — a lot of fun — sortof a mashup of a puyo-puyo style game and scrolling shooter.

  11. Wilson says:

    It looks very interesting, but I’ll be sad if I pretty much finish up with it after less than a few hours. How good are the bonus levels, and how much gameplay time will you get out of them? Are there big differences between difficulty levels, or is it just a case of the same stuff but faster/tougher/more powerful?

    • Dominic White says:

      Have you ever played an arcade shooter before? They’re usually under 45 minutes long. Of course, that’s if you score a perfect run and don’t die. Traditionally, continuing after death resets your score to zero, which is a very bad thing. Therefore, the goal of the game is to beat it on the highest setting possible without dying at all.

      That’ll take more than a few hours.

    • Wilson says:

      @Dominic White – Yeah, I’ve played arcade shooters before, but I don’t tend to play to complete perfection. I’ll play until I’m ‘quite good’ generally. I’m not expecting the missions to last a few hours, but I do want to make sure that they’ll be interesting enough for me to actually want to play for a few hours. If there’s no difference between the levels on different difficulties, or if those bonus missions don’t take very long then this might not be a game for me.

      Say I play those bonus levels for five minutes each (over a few playthroughs) and then play the campaign at about 20 minutes (according to Quintin) say four times, that gives me 180 minutes, which would be worth £6 easily (with the coop play fun factor added in).

      I’m not expecting hours and hours here, but I just want to get a slightly better idea about what the game includes.

    • Xocrates says:

      TB’s WTF is… suggests a fair bit of content. He also showcases the difference in difficulties. No idea how long the actual game is however:

    • squareking says:

      It’s always a bit tough to recommend shooters to your average gamer — even the RPS crowd, which often indulges in hardcore and/or obscure treasures and other nichey delights. The modern shmup is usually about getting the highest score, meaning you have to know how to interact with — and take full advantage of — the scoring system. I can’t speak for Jamestown as I haven’t played it yet (but I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release), but enemy chaining seems to be the scoring foundation.

      Usually, this also means having to replay sections of the game a billion times, even for the most skilled players. So while it’s entirely possible to beat the game, see the ending, unlock your achievements, etc with a dozen credits, that’s not in the spirit of the game or its arcade roots. Part of the pleasure of these games is toughing it out, eventually dominating a stage and adapting what you’ve learned to a new stage, new enemies, new bosses and new bullet patterns. Essentially, the game is as long as you want it to be, or until you’re at the top of the high score list. At least, that’s the purist’s view on things. :)

      I was raised on these games and, while I admit part of my adoration comes from nostalgia, they’re just an integral part of gaming culture to me. There’s action, a true challenge (in the right mindset, certainly) and a special /quirk/ you won’t get in your puzzlers, FPS, RTS, what have you. You can hop in and do a 5-minute session or devote a few hours to no-missing a stage.

      I’d recommend picking it up for the same reason other players recommend obscure indie titles — so we see more of them out there for us. Plus, c’mon, that’s some excellent pixel art right there.

    • bluebogle says:

      I’ve been playing for about 3-4 hours and I still have plenty to do. I would recommend this to anyone who doesn’t mind fast paced games. At $10 it’s an absolute bargain.

  12. Adam Blue says:

    I love SHMUPS, and this is definitely a great one. It is short, but not for the price. Though, in this day, gamers expect 20 hours of gameplay out of $5 games.

    This game would have been $60 on the SNES.

    • johnpeat says:

      I found myself thinking “there are a legion of shooters on the XBOX for <£1 each" and then I thought "but most of them are shite"… :)

      My only concern is that my 360 pad isn't not really up to the job of proper bullet-hell shooters (analog stick crap – DPad crapper).

  13. terry says:

    Just played the first couple of levels of this. To a non-shooter fan (except Xenon 2) it feels surprisingly accessible – the bullet hell bits only really come in on the bosses so far, and if my fat fingers can navigate them then it should pose no problems to anyone with a modicum of fine motor control. When I died there was no feeling of “MUST SMASH CONTROLLER – UNFAIR THING OCCURRED” but more “I MUST DRINK MORE COFFEE AND SHOOT HARDER”

    The music and graphics are absolutely outstanding and I’d say its worth the money for the spectacle alone. It makes you feel like an absolute badass.

  14. bluebogle says:

    I’ve been playing this and so far it’s an absolute joy. Not even a big shmup fan. The levels get pretty hard, so even after 3-4 hours there is still plenty to do. Well worth it I think.

  15. clippa says:

    This is bloody brilliant.

    That is all.

  16. Montoli says:

    After reading this review, I went and tried to open a fridge with my face. It was hard!

    Jamestown is awesome though!

  17. squidlarkin says:

    This is easily up there with anything Cave has done.

    • Thants says:

      We’re done here.

    • squareking says:

      Strong words, those. Maybe better than Cave’s most recent output?

    • johnpeat says:

      I’ve poured a stack of time into this and whilst I share the feeling that it’s a lovely bit of work, it has a few flaws which stop it from being compared to the output of people like Cave IMO

      Biggest one is ship balance. The Bomber is underpowered – no other way to put that. The Beam ship is, if anything, overpowered BUT it’s control system is so spectacularly poor (as least on a 360 controller) that it’s abilities are reined-in (a slightly odd idea!?).

      As the difficulty ramps-up I keep finding myself ‘hemmed in’ by approaching missiles too. The key to a good bullet-hell shooter is that this shouldn’t happen that often – there should always be a way out (however difficult) or at least a way of predicting the worst attacks and working around them.

      Example – Level 2′s boss ‘laser’ will do this – sweeping you into the sides of the screen. It would be obvigated a bit by giving a better signal that the laser is going to fire (if there is one, I’ve missed it) at least…

      It’s just details like that which let it down I think – I need to see fewer “why did I die” or “nowhere to go” moments really, otherwise my only complaint would be to speed-up the menu animations because they get a bit wearing after a while…

  18. adonf says:

    What’s our nation’s birthplace in the context of this game ? Is it Olympus Mons ?

  19. raddevon says:

    Chiming in with some of the others here to say this game is fantastic! I’m not much of a shmup guy, but this game eases you into it perfectly. You get the first three levels on the easy difficulty. After that, you need to step up the difficulty to progress further… and you’ll really want to! The ships have great variety and feel very different to play.

    There’s a sensation that comes from these bullet-hell shooters that doesn’t really come from many other games. You go into this weird unconscious zen state and you’re weaving through bullet patterns that seem impossible to the conscious mind. The feeling of satisfaction from making through a particularly hairy section is unparalleled.

    You can’t dispute this game has $9 of content. The way it slowly releases content is masterful. You’ll be eager to unlock new ships, bonus levels, higher difficulty levels, and even an alternate storyline!

    I know I sound like a shill, but I can’t say enough about this game particularly for people who don’t typically play this stuff.

  20. TollTheRavens says:

    As someone who has basically no experience with this type of game, I found it more enjoyable than I expected, and not quite as hard as some people are making it out to be. Not that I’m blazing through on the hardest difficulty, but I was expecting to hit a brick long before I did. I guess the difficulty curve was designed nicely for new players.

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