It is the 17th century. A man from England escaped his execution to the Jamestown colony on the New World. The English colonies are currently under siege by the Spanish, with the Roanoke colony disappearing in mysterious circumstances. Seeking to find some form of redemption in the New World, the protagonist heads out to fight the joint Spanish-Martian forces and maybe find out what happened to Roanoke.
Oh yeah, the New World is Mars, that’s important to remember.
Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony is a shmup by Final Form Games that released in 2011. This is not to be confused with Jamestown+, an updated definitive version that released last year. Hm, I should have realized that something was up when original Jamestown went on sale on my wishlist after years of never being on sale at all. Whatever. I bought it, I played it anyway, so let’s get into it.
Jamestown has a rather unique aesthetic compared to many space shmups because it mixes fast firing spaceships with the pixellated look of 17th century English colonies. Your ship flies above humble ramshackle houses as it engages with aliens and enemy ships that lean toward having a steampunk look. It looks gorgeous, enemies and bullets are distinct from the background, it has a unique feel – the visuals are pretty much an A+ to me.
The music in the game brings me pain. Not because it’s bad, but because it takes me back to those classes in history where they make you watch videos of old America. It’s the music that plays for those documentaries on colonial America, you know, Paul Revere shit. I particularly like the themes that have Spanish influences, as they feel fitting for a fight against Spanish occupied parts of Mars.
Also, hey. Is it weird that the martians are the equivalent of Native Americans in this context? Is it weird that the good guys in this situation are also conquering Martian land? It’s clear that the Spanish side is the “worse” side considering that they’re openly mining resources from the planet, but I definitely don’t trust the English. It’s probably an unreliable narrator thing given the fact that the protagonist is an Englishman and hey, maybe + taking place on Mars’ moons might address the fact that “hey, maybe this is fucked.”
Playing through Jamestown is interesting. The standard “go through all the stages in one go” thing is actually an optional thing (Gauntlet mode). Instead, it’s a stage select thing where you have 3 lives/2 continues on each; this gives a lot of breathing room for levels and can help train you up if you decide to tackle Gauntlet mode. The later levels however are not unlocked until after you beat the past levels on certain difficulties. Do the first few levels on easy, then work your way up the difficulties so that you’re more prepared to handle the later levels, and so on. As a person that’s average at these games, Jamestown‘s handling of stage select presents a fair challenge escalation. It’s accessible to a point in that it lets new players ride around on training wheels before taking them off for the later stages.
There are four different ships to use on your grand trek across the New World. There’s the basic Beam ship, which shoots a normal spread of pellets for its primary fire and a narrow yet strong laser for the secondary. The Charge ship – my favorite one – has a weak, narrow primary fire, but every few seconds its giant Orb secondary charges up and you can fire it like a bowling ball to roll through enemies.
The other two ships are like, the game’s skill ceiling in that they’re difficult to use but can be more effective than the other ships if used right. The Gunner ship actually fires two separate streams of bullets and the secondary fire allows you to reposition the second stream; it takes micromanaging and good level memorization, but the Gunner can effectively cover huge portions of the screen. The last one, Bomber, is kind of a weird one in that it shoots slow, ineffective pellets, but the secondary fire causes them to explode. It’s a bit unwieldy to use, since you’d have to shoot near enemies or detonate the bullets right before they hit enemies to use Bomber effectively, but it does pretty good damage.
Jamestown‘s equivalent of bombs – and the key to getting high scores – is vaunt. After collecting a certain number of, I don’t know, dubloons, you can enter vaunt mode. Entering vaunt grants a brief shield against bullets and after it’s gone you’re left with an attack power boost for the rest of vaunt’s duration. Any ships you destroy while in vaunt mode nets you extra points and you can sustain vaunt by collecting more dubloons. If you don’t care about score, you can cancel out of vaunt early for another brief shield, and given how fast it is to accumulate vaunt, a defensive playstyle is viable. Overall, vaunt is a neat alternative to bombs that can swing you between aggressive and defensive play.
A big defining part of Jamestown is that it’s co-op! I have not touched it. It looks good in the trailers, though.
Jamestown is a pretty alright game! The thing is though, I accidentally played the original version without realizing that there’s a new, definitive version. That version is probably better than this one, so if you want a fun shmup in a setting that’s unique (if questionable) you should probably pick up Jamestown +.