Sony's new console isn't running short on stellar shoot 'em ups – in fact, it already has two instant classics and a great update in the form of Resogun, Velocity 2X, and Super Stardust Ultra. But like the many monsters that we find ourselves blasting away in this genre, maybe you're still hungry for more. Fear not, despite some obnoxious features, Jamestown+ is a fun little shmup with loads of personality.
As its name suggests, the game plays host to a colonial theme. The New World – er, Mars – has been colonized by the British, but now Spaniards have enlisted the help of Martians to take the planet for themselves. There are enough historical figures here for your high school History teacher to shake a finger at, each accompanied by a sci-fi-esque aircraft.
This is a by the numbers shmup, meaning that gameplay largely, if not entirely, consists of weaving between bullets and blowing stuff up. It doesn't take long to get the hang of, either, as the game makes use of only three buttons and has a fair, steady learning curve. It's one of those addictive titles that's easy to pick up and play but oh so hard to master.
There are a few tools to make the task ahead a bit easier, though. Namely, "vaunting" – an offensive and defensive move that not only provides you with a temporary shield, but also boosts the amount of damage that your ship does and doubles the amount of points that you score from killing enemies. It's extremely useful, too, if not essential for your survival.
To vaunt, you'll need to fill a meter that runs on gold. Enemies drop golden cogs and bolts once they've been destroyed, but since the screen is constantly covered with enemy fire, there's a lot of risk in snagging the little trinkets, giving the game yet another chance to test your skills in manoeuvring through a crowd of bullets. Things get intense when you find yourself comparing the risk to the reward of grabbing gold in later levels.
Gold also serves as currency, allowing you to buy new ships and game modes. While we admire that the developer has made an active effort to provide content to players, the inclusion of a store is rather pointless, and we assume that it was thrown in only to extend playtime. Likewise, in order to unlock new levels, you'll need to revisit old ones on a harder difficulty setting quite often. This didn't infuriate us, but it did slow down the pace substantially, and completely took away the value in having lower difficulty settings.
This push by the developer to make players revisit old levels is particularly puzzling when you consider that the game already has a decent amount of content. For a shmup, seven levels and twenty challenges is more than gracious. Even then, there's a dozen unique ships to play around with, so we aren't sure why there was ever a need to force players to backtrack.
It's also worth noting that the game supports local co-op. Up to three buddies can join you on this mission through Mars, and while we were disgruntled to learn that there was no support for online play, the inclusion of a leaderboard did raise our spirits.
Visually speaking, this is yet another title that embraces a 1990s look. But while most other critics have compared its graphics to 16-bit Genesis and Super Nintendo games, this scribe feels that the style presented is slightly more modern, almost as though it's been taken straight from a fifth generation console like the SEGA Saturn or the original PlayStation. Of course, either approach has the potential to charm the pants off of old-school aficionados, but in an indie market that's saturated with 16-bit games, we actually preferred the inclusion of a few more pixels.
Jamestown+ has a great foundation in that it's an extremely addictive and equally challenging shmup, whether you're playing alone or with friends. The inclusion of a store and some forced backtracking does take away from the experience, but at the end of the day, blowing stuff up is just so satisfying. Those who are able to get past its occasionally tedious attitude will find bullet hell bliss.