2011 was a great year for me. It was around that time that I was slowly becoming a PC Gamer. It was hard not to, steam and its sales took over my life. As someone who could only get a new game every 6 months, the pricing of steam opened my world to so many amazing indie experiences. There were just so many games to play that I felt overwhelmed.
One of those games I played during my steam craze was Jamestown. A small indie shmup developed by 3 people which happened to land on my steam library. When I look at Jamestown in my steam library, I only see a short review written by 21 year old me. The review read:
“I came for the achievement, stayed for the excellent game”
Developer & Publisher: Final Form Games
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Release date: Dec 12, 2019
Tate: Definitely not
Jamestown+ is a super wide vertical shooter. Set in British colonial mars, your task is to protect the colony of Jamestown. You won’t be alone in this endeavor, as a merry group of people will join your cause along with their ships. Oh yeah, Jamestown is all about co-op gameplay craziness!
Action packed episodes
Jamestown breaks the mold when it comes to shmup progression. Rather than being a set of stages that must be cleared in succession, Jamestown features an episodic approach. This means that you aren’t forced to complete the game in one sitting. Instead, you can take your time and tackle the stages at your own pace.
Story telling is prominently featured in each of the stages. In between stages, you get a narration of the current events by the protagonist: Raleigh. They tell the entire tale as well as tidbits about your companions’ stories. The true beauty comes from the small details scattered throughout the levels. Stuff such as the British army helping you in the first stage or the broken Roanoke sign on stage 2 truly bring the world to life.
Another thing I love about the episodic approach is that it lets you overcome the challenges one by one. Aside from the obvious challenge of clearing a stage, you can go for increasing difficulty. One of the main obstacles with classic shmup progression was that when increasing difficulty, you would be worn out by the time a new stage presents itself. That’s not the case with Jamestown, as you can go for each of the 5 difficulties in fresh runs for each stage.
The completionist in me really loves that each stage tracks if you have cleared it in a particular difficulty. I did my first play through in legendary but I actually went back to clear lower difficulties just for the mark. And here’s what makes this so good: you can track your individual progress in each stage and pursue that highest difficulty clear goal!
The classic gauntlet
If you are looking for the classic arcade progression, then the gauntlet is what you’re looking for. The gauntlet is an unlockable mode that lets you play each stage one after the other with limited credits. Think of it as an arcade run where you can’t put in more quarters.
As expected, the gauntlet can be played in any of the 5 difficulties. Just like the usual episodes, the gauntlet will track whether you have beaten it in a particular difficulty or not.
If you are feeling braver than usual, then there’s also the super gauntlet. The super gauntlet throws the 5 main levels, as well as the 2 extra moon levels for a grand total of 7 levels.
For as much progression as I’ve mentioned, nothing gives the sense of accomplishment as the shop. As you play, you will earn ducats after clearing stages. Gather enough ducats and you can head to the shop to buy several different items.
All items are permanent, and do quite an array of things for your convenience. In the shop you can buy new ships. You can also unlock the judgement difficulty and even an alternate narration of the game’s events. But if you are looking for that extra spicy content, then the challenges are what you will want to look at.
I’ve heard both opinions in favor and against the shop. I personally think it adds an extra layer of rewards for the player. Because let’s not kid ourselves, we know that the hardcore shmuper will only think about 1cc’s and high scores. But for the rest of us, we want something of value in exchange for our time. The shop keeps every run meaningful, even failed ones, because they give us the opportunity to go out there and buy something nice.
This is a recurring theme I see in Jamestown a lot. Even if the genre is shmup, it does a lot to prove that it is a full package of a game.
Vaunting for your life
The defining mechanic of Jamestown is definitely vaunting. It is your scoring mechanism, your damage increase and also your defensive panic button. It’s an all in one package.
Vaunting is a special maneuver you can perform when your gauge is full. You can fill this gauge by destroying enemies and collecting gold. Once it is activated, a decently sized shield will expand from your ship and transform all the bullets it touches into points. While you are in a vaunted state, the special gauge will gradually tick down to show the remaining time. This can always be increased by collecting more gold during vaunt. You can vaunt a second time while it is active to get a smaller shield and end your vaunt.
In addition to giving you up to 2 shields, vaunt will increase your firepower and score gain.
As you can imagine, keeping your vaunt active is what you want 100% of the time. Aside from the score gains, you most often than not want to be able to take down mid sized enemies fast. Finding ways to gain more gold and keeping your vaunt active should be your #1 priority. There are times, however, when you will need the emergency barrier to survive. Remember that better scores are attained when you stay alive.
So, gold. Gold will give you additional points and increase your gauge. But it’s not about whether or not it’s important to collect gold, but rather how much you can get. Jamestown has a sub-system where enemies will vary the amount of gold they will give you. By killing enemies at the right time, they will drop more gold than usual.
For example, on stage 3, you can get more gold by shooting the barrel bombs just as they are about to burst. Finding out this moment is legitimately fun. It is also super hard to optimize, so have fun if routing is your passion!
Armada and Treason
Another of Jamestown’s strengths comes from its ship variety. Jamestown+ features a staggering 12 different ships to play as. Granted, 2 of them are randomized ships, but it still counts. Each ship has its own regular and special shot. Whether you prefer more straight forward shooting styles or trickier styles, there’s bound to be a ship for you.
Where it does really shine is with the armada selection. Each ship in the armada subset can be customized with one of 6 generic normal shots, and one of 2 unique special shots. It really does give you a way to have your own unique combination. My personal favorite is the Crystal ship with lean shots and Espada special.
Even with what I mentioned, I found my biggest gripe with Jamestown to be that I never felt comfortable in any ship. This is because each ship has strengths and weaknesses. Because of this, it felt like I was doing ok in some levels while on others I felt outclassed. For instance, on stage 3, it is very common to be flanked by the little homing UFOs if you are not careful and depending on your ship, you might not be able to fight back.
I do think that ship variety actually weighted down the experience as a whole for me. You can tell that a lot of time and effort went into creating unique ships. However, in doing so, it borrowed a page from fighting games in creating unique strengths and distinct weaknesses in characters. When a stage’s design exploits your weakness, it really hurts.
Shmups don’t really feel like the type of game where that should be done. This can be mitigated by the fact that the game is episodic and you can pick the best ship for each stage. However, a quick trip to the gauntlet will expose your weaknesses.
Nothing ruined my experience more than the Judgement difficulty for a simple reason: green bullets.
Judgement is the highest difficulty, and green bullets are special kinds of bullets introduced for this mode. Green bullets have the unique property of being immune to your vaunt shield. This means that your emergency shield won’t protect you from them.
The reason I hate them is because they were introduced so late into the game and directly disregard every habit and muscle memory I developed. Suddenly, I can’t use vaunt aggressively to get into position because a green bullet might get in. I can’t use a panic shield because a green bullet will get in. Every strategy I’ve developed for success was suddenly invalidated.
As a final note on bullets, I also think the coloring choices were not very good. Enemy bullets come in blue and red, however your own bullets come in blue and purple. This means that there is a high risk of confusing enemy fire with friendly fire and dying as a result. It doesn’t happen as much with red bullets, but I have been tricked by my own purple bullets in moments of panic.
It’s hard to put it into words, but Jamestown feels like a complete game. With all the customization, with all of its challenge packs and multiple difficulties. This isn’t just a “Beat the game, repeat in higher difficulties” kind of game. This is a title that you boot up each day and set to accomplish something different. Maybe finally clear the third stage on judgement? Or what about beating challenge pack 3? It’s accessible enough to pull you in, but also remarkable enough to keep you playing.
Jamestown+ is so far the only game that has successfully pulled vertical shooting in a super wide screen in this list. Even with its shortcomings, Jamestown+ is nothing short of spectacular when it comes to gameplay and its presentation. It truly is a top of the class shmup that I can safely recommend to anyone looking to have a good time!
THE RANKING SO FAR:
- Psyvariar Delta
- Rolling Gunner
- Blazing Star
- Steredenn: Binary Stars
- Stardust Galaxy Warriors: Stellar Climax
- Sky Force: Reloaded
- Strikers 1945
- Black Paradox
- R-Type Dimensions EX
- Sine Mora EX
- Shikhondo – Soul Eater
- Ghost Blade HD
- AngerForce: Reloaded
- Aero Fighters 2 (ACA Neogeo)
- Lightening Force: Quest for the darkstar (Sega Ages)
- Switch ‘N’ Shoot
- Last Resort (ACA Neogeo)