Ah, the old school. You know where you are with the old school, don’t you? The comforting feel of a rubber key; the reassuring beep of an internal speaker; the familiar aching muscles in your forearm after a furious waggling session (fnar!); the homely sight of your TV screen filled with monochrome bad guys, bullets, and other jagged pixels you can’t identify. Halcyon days indeed – especially if you’re an old codger like myself. In fact, I’m old enough to spell old school with a ‘ch’, look. I know!
If I had to guess, I’d wager that Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony’s devs – Final Form Games – are like-minded people for it’s a shoot ‘em up (henceforth abbreviated to SHMUP to save my old school fingers) that embraces the same aesthetics as the shooters of yore. The only concessions to the modern world are the ability to use one of those bizarre hand held devices with the two little joysticks on them, and the fact that it has more than eight colours. Witchcraft!
To be fair, there’s more to it than just a nostalgia hit – it’s a cracking little SHMUP in its own right. Hell, it even has a proper story. A completely barmy one: Jamestown is an English colony on a steampunk version of 17th century Mars, that is under attack from aliens, the Spanish and possibly Spanish aliens. You save it. Or at least die trying. This story, the setting, and the excellent graphics and music, give Jamestown a fantastic feel. The first level’s particularly great; with English Redcoats helping you attack the alien threat in their steampunk vessels. Each level’s intro screen is also fantastic – done in the style of an intro to an act in a play. Little things like this come together to give the game real character.
This character helps you forgive it. Not forgive it because of its failings, oh no – it barely has any of those. No, you’ll be forgiving it because it will kill you. Over and over and over again, and then once more for good measure. It’s a ‘bullet hell’ SHMUP which means that, at the harder difficulty settings, there are more things that will kill you on the screen than there is space to manoeuvre. The easy difficulty settings are a breeze – apparently a deliberate tactic to entice new fans – but ramp it up past ‘Legendary’ (which you’ll need to do in order to see the final level) and things get seriously manic. You’ll be making plentiful use of your ‘Vaunt’ mode – a shield activated by collecting the cogs dropped by the bad guys - and sweaty palms and ground teeth are guaranteed.
It’s so wonderfully designed – it knows exactly what it’s doing: collision detection is spot on (you only BLAMSPLODE! if you get hit in the dead centre of your ship); the levels are imaginative and the aliens and their attack patterns are well thought out; and there are four ship types that are distinctly different (with two different weapons each). It also has plenty of bonus game modes from score challenges to timed survival modes, some of which are so monumentally difficult they amount to torture. Massively addictive torture, though, the kind that keeps you coming back to experience PURE PAIN. You know the kind I mean. Amusingly, there’s also an unlockable ‘Farce’ mode that makes the already barking story even barkingier.
It’s also got a neat – although local only – multi-by-which-I-mean-up-to-four-player mode. Of course, this means you’ll have to have real life friends and plenty of room to play it, which I don’t – it’s far too pricey at Christmas. I do have one – very lucky – friend though, and it was a great laugh playing Jamestown together. Maybe a touch confusing at the higher difficulty level, when the screen was filled with neon death, but on the whole easier and much more fun. Very reminiscent of the old days, playing SWIV two player whilst day-dreaming about Anne Diamond in a shell suit. Aaah... bliss.
The downside to all this? It’s short – I’d unlocked most things and seen all the story levels in just shy of two hours. BUT, that’s all you need – this is an old school SHMUP where the longevity comes from beating high scores and other challenges. Add too much to this simplicity and you end up diluting the experience. Still, to many people this will be a considerable downside.
Not me though. Jamestown is a stylish game and fans of the genre should definitely check it out. It certainly tickled all my SHMUP fancies.