Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony Review «

It’s hard not to be won over by the charm of Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony; after all, the game’s premise focuses on the history of the titular American colony, but with an entirely new backdrop: Mars. Okay, so maybe they didn’t get all the facts right — I’m pretty sure Sir Walter Raleigh never escaped from the Tower of London via spaceship in an attempt to solve the mystery of Roanoke and clear his good name — but, veracity aside, Final Form Games’ outlandish premise combined with their lush, hyper-detailed 2D presentation makes for an experience that’s far too remarkable to ignore.
If you’re familiar with the shoot-em-up (shmup) genre, the basic concept of Jamestown should be apparent: blow up anything in your path without getting blown up yourself. To help you accomplish this task, Jamestown gives you access to four ships, each equipped with a different special weapon fit for varying styles of play. And just like any shmup worth its salt, Jamestown features a mechanic to add a little spice into what could easily be a brain-dead experience: the combo-centric “Vaunt” system.

Click the image above to check out all Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony screens.
Defeated enemies drop gold, and any gold collected increases your Vaunt meter; when the meter is full, you can activate Vaunt mode, which surrounds you with a short-lived shield, increases the power of your weapons by 50-percent, and doubles the amount of points you earn. Though Vaunt mode only lasts until your meter is fully depleted, you can continue collecting gold to prevent this from happening, or hit the Vaunt button again to end this mode and give yourself another temporary shield. It’s an elegant risk/reward system reminiscent of Treasure-developed shooters that adds just the right amount of complication to Jamestown’s frenetic pace.

Most people will take notice of Jamestown for its graphics alone, and with good reason; the game is crafted entirely with gorgeous 2D sprites that call shmups of the Neo-Geo to mind. But Final Form Games isn’t going for a lazy nostalgia grab with their design choice. Jamestown’s sprite graphics are beautiful in their own right, and integrate with the stunning, hand-drawn backgrounds in interesting ways: enemies emerge from swamps, out of caves, and travel along pathways and railroad tracks. And despite all of the action on the screen, things never get too cluttered, whether you’re fighting swarms to tiny enemies or dodging the bullet and/or laser spray emitted from the game’s many screen-filling bosses. From the game itself to the GUI, Final Form Games has created a feast for the eyes of anyone who loves 2D artwork — heck, they even include an option that allows purists to play in a smaller, but pixel-perfect window. That’s commitment.

At first glance, the game’s six short levels don’t seem to promise a very long experience, but Final Form Games places more of an emphasis on perfecting its handful of short stages across various levels of difficulty. In fact, some of the later levels can’t be reached without first finishing some of the earlier ones on harder settings, so Jamestown does an excellent job of training you for what’s to come. And increasing the difficulty level doesn’t simply make your opponents into bullet sponges; with each step up, the behavior of the enemies themselves — from shooting to movement — becomes a little trickier, giving you less time to respond. All this adds up to a thoughtfully crafted game that may test your patience, but never feels unfair — and masochists can always try out one of Jamestown’s many bonus stages, which seem to be designed with the shmup expert (not the controller-throwing amateur) in mind.

Given Jamestown’s indie roots, there’s a lot to love here; in fact, the final stage’s stirring, operatic soundtrack (along with the suitably epic music heard throughout) belies this game’s humble origins. Even if you’re lousy at shmups — a category I definitely fall into — Jamestown is very approachable, allowing you to slowly hone your skills before you tackle some of the trickier stages. And as Final Form Games’ debut title, Jamestown can’t be called anything but a fully realized labor of love.

 

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