Jamestown is a vertically scrolling shoot'em up which supports up to four players locally. The game has four ships each with its own unique attack style. The levels are played asynchronously. In addition to the storyline there are a number of challenge modes which can be completed.
In 1619 Raleigh has escaped execution at the hands of his own king. Desiring to clear his name Raleigh flees the Tower of London and heads to the new world, Mars. Mars is currently being fought over between the English and the Spanish armada. Unfortunately for Raleigh the Martians are loyal to the Spanish and have sided with them. Resting his hopes for clearing his name on solving the mystery of the vanished settlement at Roanoake, Raleigh heads to the Jamestown colony in search of John Smith.
Jamestown is the first alternate history/sci-fi shooter I have ever played and indeed it may be the only one that exists. Storyline is not something I have payed mind to in other shoot'em ups, but it is very present in Jamestown. Before and after every level you get a story update. Happily these can be easily be skipped and even turned off entirely. I don't mind the story, but it's not why I'm playing a shoot'em up.
Jamestown has everything you would expect in a shooter. Destructible enemies to kill, indestructible objects to avoid, bonus items to grab. But the details differentiate it. Before each stage you select a type of ship. At the beginning your options will be limited but as you play the other ships will unlock. You can plays with the Beam, Gunner, Charge or Bomber. Beam and Charge are both listed as standard while Gunner and Bomber are listed as advanced. And I certainly agree with the assessment. The two advanced ships are much more difficult to use effectively.
Each ship has two attack modes. The Beam gives you a wide radius of fire and is the only ship to natively firing range outside of what is directly in front of you. The special weapon here is a high-powered constant beam which fires directly in front of you and rapidly damages opposing ships. The drawback is that your ship moves quite slowly while firing this special attack. The other standard ship is the Charge. The basic weapon is has a smaller firing dispersal and fires fewer bullets than the Beam's basic weapon. The Charge special shot fires a slow moving ball that damages any enemy in its path. It doesn't stop when it contacts an enemy, but rather continues on damaging anything in the path. It slowly charges over time, so that if you wait to use it the ball will be larger and more destructive.
The first advanced ship you will unlock is the Gunner. This ship has a basic weapon very similar to the Charge ship and is unique in that the special weapon is always active. Using the special weapon allows you to change the direction in which the special weapon fires. Thus if you press left while using the special weapon it will fire left. When you let up on the special weapon the direction of fire will lock in place until you use it again. This weapon certainly takes some getting used to, but it is the only weapon that allows you to fire to the left, right or towards the rear of your ship. The Bomber has the weakest basic weapon, a single stream of bullets. But the using the special causes the bullets to explode doing tremendous damage.
When you destroy an enemy, it explodes into a field of golden gears and cogs. Collecting these not only increases your score but also moves increases the Vaunt
meter. Once activated Vaunt has several effects. For a short time it provides a shield around your ship. For a longer but still limited time you will double your score. Collecting gears and cogs during the Vaunt will increase the time your score increases. Vaunt also increases the damage your ships weaponry does to enemy units. The final feature of Vaunt mode is that if you press vaunt again while it is active you will get a shorter lasting shield, but Vaunt mode immediately ends if you utilize this.
Jamestown ostensibly has five difficulty levels ranging from Normal to Judgement. But make no mistake the first two: Normal and Difficult do not allow you to play the full game. If you play on Normal you can only access the first three levels of the game. You will then be forced to play the earlier levels on a higher difficulty to continue the main story mode. If you should choose to use the Difficult setting you can access the fourth but not the fifth level of the game. This was frustrating to me as a player. I recommend using Legendary (or higher) difficulty from the beginning.
Jamestown offers a number of additional gameplay options beyond the main story mode. There is the Gauntlet mode where you play through all the levels consecutively. You are given three lives per credit and three credits. The credits do not reset during gameplay. Gauntlet is unique in Jamestown in that it is the only mode where your accomplishments in one level have any bearing on the next.
There are also a number of Bonus Levels that can be unlocked. These must be unlocked to access them through a mixture of spending ducats and doing well on the challenges which you already have access to. Most of the conditions for completing the bonus levels are earning certain number of points and activating rings by flying over them, in others you simply have to survive a set amount of time.
Jamestown offers four player simultaneous play. However it is local only. The ships are clearly designed to work well together so that one player can ameliorate the weaknesses of the ship of another, or can activate a vaunt shield to protect a friend. It is unfortunate that online multiplayer was not offered.
Jamestown also offers for additional purchase a DLC pack which has more ships to choose from and bonus levels.
I really like the look of Jamestown which is a throwback to the 16 bit era with pixelization and attractive sprites. The soundtrack is also quite good. Unfortunately, as much as I wanted to like it, Jamestown never captured my interest as much as I was hoping. I think that is largely to do with the fact that the game appears to be primarily designed for multiplayer co-op. If I could play online multiplayer I have a feeling my appreciation for Jamestown would increase tremendously. The other aspect that detracts for me is that each level is its own unique challenge and that your performance in one does not carry over to the next. I tend to most enjoy shoot'em ups where you can continually upgrade your weapons until you can destroy most anything on the screen without trying too hard. And then I can get a bunch of free guys so that by the time the game is challenging enough that I die even with my tremendous fire power and start again with a basic ship I have enough lives that I can brute force my way to the finish. Can't do that in Jamestown. The only way to upgrade your destructive capability is with Vaunt and choosing a more destructive ship, and you can't get any free lives. My guess is that Jamestown is a lot more fun to play multiplayer. But I think it is unlikely that I will ever get a chance to try.