"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.
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.