About games and gaming thereof!

Jamestown

Finally, I can talk about a game that’s still relevant.

When I first saw Jamestown on Steam I wasn’t too intrigued. It’s a bullet hell shooter (read: top-down shooter where you fly around in a spaceship-type-thing and bullets come at you from all directions) and as fun as it may be, it’s not exactly an uncommon genre in the indie crowd. Sure, it may be a very refined example, but I can play Frantic 2, a bullet hell shooter that’s refined as all Hell, for free anytime I want.

But Jamestown surprised me in a number of ways.

I wasn’t expecting the gameplay to bring any new ideas to the table, but it actually did. Here’s how a bullet hell shooter generally works: You glide around on the screen and constantly shoot bullets at the enemies, who are constantly shooting bullets at you. If a game is feeling frisky it’ll give you a special powerup ability you can use every once in awhile to blow up a bunch of enemies, or give you invincibility, something like that.

Jamestown goes the extra mile by giving you three abilities. You have a primary weapon, a special weapon, and a “Vaunt,” which essentially works like the powerup I mentioned earlier. The special weapon is different depending on what ship you use, but it generally makes things a lot more interesting and brings strategy to the field. For the standard ship you can use a special beam cannon, which does much more damage than the regular gun but lowers your movement speed immensely. With another weapon your special button will make all the bullets you’ve fired instantly explode.

By introducing these elements to gameplay it makes the whole experience feel much more varied and strategic. Generally speaking, a game can challenge you in three ways: Skill, strategy, and reflexes. Jamestown manages to test all three, and I really like that about it.

Jamestown has what is possibly one of the most intriguing premises of any shooter I’ve ever seen or played. It takes place in an alternate history where the original Jamestown settlement was built on Mars rather than New England, and you fly around in a spaceship gunning down Martian Spanish conquistadores. I had to laugh when my friend said they ruined the premise by using it for a shooter rather than an RPG. I think the setting fits pretty well with the gameplay.

Here’s one of the “cutscenes.” There’s supposed to be text at the bottom…

As you may have guessed, this game very much has a retro vibe about it. It’s presented in blocky, quasi-16-bit graphics, and the story is as preposterous as ever. Now, I feel I may have given the wrong impression in that one rant I wrote a little while back, because there are aspects of old games that I really do like, and Jamestown picks up on that very well. The visuals in the game are absolutely beautiful, in a Castlevania: Symphony of the Night kind of way.

Oh, so that’s what happened to Roanoke…

Two valid complaints I’ve heard are that the game is rather short (there’s only five missions in the campaign, plus some bonus challenges on the side) and that there’s no online multiplayer. As for the length, this is definitely the kind of game you’re supposed to play over and over in order to beat all the difficulty levels and hone your skills. As for no online multiplayer, fair enough, that does suck. Though there is local multiplayer, so you can have one person using the mouse, one using the keyboard, and two using USB controllers.

All in all, quite a solid game. I enjoyed it a lot, and so might you. At least worth a look if you’re into the whole arcade shooter scene.

BUT! There’s one big complaint for it that I’ve been saving until now, and it goes thus.

One big part of my philosophy on games (god damn, I bet I’m sounding pretentious right now) is that a game should be beatable by anybody, not just the unemployed psychotics who are looking to brag to their friends and the Internet about how awesome they are at games. Old games seemed to go completely against this concept, but eventually games started opening up to more people by scrapping the lives system (Nintendo excluded because they apparently don’t like change), making enemy attacks and death traps less unfair, and most importantly, adding separate difficulty levels. This way the player can choose what difficulty to play on, and everyone ends up having a proper challenge. In theory, anyway.

Here’s the weird thing. Jamestown has five difficulty levels (Normal, Difficult, Legendary, Divine, and Judgement), but once I beat the third level I got a popup saying (paraphrased) “You cannot progress to the next level until you’ve beaten all the previous levels on Difficult or higher.” The fourth level doesn’t have a normal difficulty, only difficult and beyond. And the last level won’t let you play until you’ve beaten all the previous levels on Legendary or higher.

This completely ruins the entire point of having separate difficulties. What’s the point in giving us easier modes if you’re going to flat-out stop us from using them after a few missions? What, did you just really want to make sure that no newbies get to enjoy the ending?

It was never a big problem for me. I’m fairly experienced with bullet hell shooters, so I was able to beat the final level on legendary after a few tries. It still bugs the hell out of me though. It seems like they really missed the point.

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5 responses

  1. I think this post over at MammonMachine explains the thought that went into the different difficulty levels and how progression is handled by the game extremely well: http://mammonmachine.blogspot.com/2011/07/jamestown.html

    July 4, 2011 at 5:57 PM

    • JPH

      I… I don’t think the game is as amazing as that post makes it sound. And I agree that for the most part the game does progression well, but I don’t think there’s any excuse for closing off the last few levels to people who aren’t good enough to play on legendary mode.

      July 4, 2011 at 6:10 PM

  2. Solaris

    From what I’ve seen, I like Touhou better, if not just for the music. But it does look enjoyable.

    July 4, 2011 at 6:03 PM

  3. Nivek

    J, i have to agree with you i hate when a game gives the people who play on loweer dificulties less of a game. (I am NOT one of those people but i know alot of people who avoid VGs for that reason) another example is the who Legendary Ending thing that Halo:CE started where those who got beat a higher diffuclty got more of the story, Halo typcially doesnt do it to badly but it was the tipping point of mainstream games starting the whole “if you beat it on the hardest difficulty you get the real ending not some stupid ending” which is totally different from the good old metriod “do better and get the better ending” thing. i really hate when i am trying to show someone how fun a game is and i have to tell them, there are other diffculties but they arent as fun becasue of *insert stupid dificulty reason*. one of my big selling points for a game is if someone who can beat it on the hardest dificulty, go to the easiest difficulty to tear shit up for shits and giggles, and not lose any of the gameplay and story the made the harder difficulty fun. i mean i love going back on the halo games on easy and just mauling the crap out of the motherfuckers who killed me soo many times on legendary….thats how the difficulties should be made the exact same game just scaled to different skill levels with no other changes, no extra hand holding, no bonus just for doing it on a harder difficulty, no mocking those who cant get past medium on guitar hero by making the notes worth less, just made for a different skill set……

    July 4, 2011 at 7:53 PM

  4. Your blog seems to have evolved from a Ghastly into a Haunter.

    I have nothing of interest to say about Jamestown, as I haven’t played it and I don’t particularly care for Shoot-‘Em-Ups and bullet hell.

    July 5, 2011 at 2:43 AM

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