When you look at console gaming these days, you see two very different styles of game occupying the same digital shelf space. There are the multimillion dollar productions that need to do multimillion numbers in sales to break even, and the smaller games from smaller teams. This second category has been where most of the creativity and artistic vision have gone to lately. That means that if you buy a console like the PlayStation 4, chances are high that there will be something to suit your tastes. Jamestown+ is such a game for those who want a finely crafted vertical scrolling shooter.
What Is It?
Set in 17th Century British Colonial Mars, Jamestown+ tells the story of a disgraced knight, accused of treason who seeks to clear his name and hopefully keep his head. To do this, you’ll need to fly your ship through treacherous areas filled with both the enemy Spaniards and the local Martians. It’s a setting and premise that lends itself to some excellent level and enemy designs, and it isn’t wasted in the least.
This is backed up by a wonderful presentation, and one of my small gripes with the game. Jamestown+ has very well drawn multilayer scrolling levels, as well as enemies of all sizes, from the tiniest drone ships to screen-filling bosses. Many of these enemies like to spew bullets toward you. They’re shooter enemies, that’s what they do. The only trouble is that when you shoot them down, gold coins pop out from them which you’ll have to collect to fill your Vaunt meter. I’ll go into more on that mechanic further down. Often times you’ll have gold and bullets coming at you, so sometimes it’s hard to tell what is what. That’s not so bad, when in doubt just avoid everything. What’s more of a problem is the way bullets can sometimes blend into the background, making it very hard to see and avoid them. There were more than a few times I’ve lost ships because I just didn’t see the bullet that killed me.
Why Should I Care?
A clever setting and defined art style is all well and good, but if it isn’t backed up by fun gameplay then it’s just a waste of effort. Jamestown+ is a one to four player vertically scrolling shoot-em-up with just the right level of difficulty and complexity to be challenging, but not frustrating.
You’ll start the game with one standard ship (two with the Gunpowder, Treason, and Plot DLC), and as you complete levels you’ll earn the opportunity to purchase new ones in the in-game shop. Each ship has its own set of weapons that make them all play very differently. It may take a lot of trial-and-error and repeat playthroughs to find the one you like the most. You’ll eventually get the ability to customize your ship, allowing you to select your own primary and secondary weapon combination, which is a very welcome addition.
As you fly through the levels shooting down the Spanish and Martian hordes, you’ll collect gold coins that you can use to purchase ships and power ups in the store. Collecting these coins also fills up your Vaunt meter. When the meter is full you can deploy Vaunt mode, giving you a score multiplier, a temporary shield, and a boost to your firepower. If you collect more gold coins while in Vaunt mode, you can extend its duration, so knowing when to use it becomes a key element in getting really high scores.
Jamestown+ sits somewhere in the middle of traditional and bullet-hell style shooter. It switches from throwing enemy formations at you to filling the screen with bullets on the fly, so you will get brief respites where you can at least take a breath before more stuff comes flying down at you. The game can be played with up to four players via local couch co-op. It doesn’t have online multiplayer, but this is a PlayStation 4 game that supports SharePlay. You can at least bring in a second player over the internet to help you out. If you have three friends or three copies of yourself you can play with in the same room, you’ll run into one of the game’s issues. With four players, the game gets really busy. It’s difficult to tell what’s going on when there’s multiple streams of bullets polka-dotting the screen. It’s not a game breaker by any means, but it does mean that your friends, or clones really need to be on the same page to avoid getting in each others’ way. For me, the sweet spot was two players. I’ve always enjoyed cooperative shooters, but including more than two players never really worked very well for me.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
This is a wonderful example of what indie games are all about. You take a genre of game that many people like, maybe not millions of people, but certainly thousands, and you build a game to be the best in that genre. Jamestown+ is a honed and refined version of the original PC release that feels right at home on the PlayStation 4. For your money, you get a challenging game that will push you to become better. You’ll always earn coins, no matter what you do, so you always feel as if you’re making headway. As you play the game, you’ll start to memorize the levels and enemy patterns, and before you know it, you’ll be racking up high scores.
It’s the old school ethos done properly. You don’t have to make a game look like an 8-bit throwback to be old school. You just need to adhere to the old sensibilities of gameplay before all else. This is something Jamestown+ does incredibly well.
If you are a PlayStation 4 owner that remembers the days of Capcom’s 1943 or Konami’s Life Force, you’ll want to add Jamestown+ to your PSN Basket and download it right away. It’s a game that just feels right.