Video Game Review: Jamestown—Single-Player | Giant Fire Breathing Robot

Video Game Review: Jamestown—Single-Player

Jamestown is a pixelicious multiplayer shmup set in 17th-century British Colonial Mars. As one of PAX Prime 2011’s PAX 10, GFBRobot had a hands-on overview of the game curated by Final Form Games‘ Mike Ambrogi. It looks great, it sounds great, but the multiplayer aspect may detract those of us with a drought of gaming friends in the immediate vicinity. As most shmup fans know, the genre is  mainly populated by single player endeavors. So if you’re wondering how Jamestown plays as a single player shmup, this review is for you.

You want me to fight all THAT?!

People generally associate the word “shmup” with player characters shooting projectiles to defeat enemies, avoiding enemy hazards or enemy projectiles to survive, and getting a high score. Besides those core traits there is quite a bit of variation. Space Invaders is a pretty straight-up, shoot-everything game. Robotron: 2084 and Charlie’s Games’s Bullet Candy Perfect (and the upcoming Scoregasm) is twin-stick. Space Invaders Extreme focuses on target selection. Bullet hell/curtain types like CAVE’s DoDonPachi and Touhou Project games focus on pattern recognition and weaving between bullets. Jamestown is somewhere along the lines of the bullet hell types but focuses on target selection and positioning with scoring and style of play revolving around the “Vaunt” mechanic.

Destroying enemies causes gold to drop (the highest gold drop per enemy depends on the enemy’s state upon destruction). Collecting gold charges up your Vaunt meter. Activating Vaunt when the meter is fully charged creates a temporary shield that absorbs enemy projectiles and makes you invulnerable, while at the same time it powers you up to do more damage and score more points as the meter depletes. Collecting gold prolongs your Vaunt mode. When your meter is depleted, you return to normal and gain a score bonus depending on how much time you stay in Vaunt. Manually canceling Vaunt triggers another temporary shield but lowers the bonus you get from being in Vaunt mode. Unlike DoDonPachi or Touhou Project games, grazing bullets (and by extension, weaving) does not give score bonuses nor enable special abilities.

Vaunt in a nutshell.

The scoring and damage bonus encourages players to activate Vaunt to keep it on all the time. Since there’s no advantage to keeping enemies alive, Vaunt instead encourages players to actively seek, select, and destroy targets to collect gold. The larger gold chunks (typically from tougher targets) tend to bounce-up a bit towards the top of the screen before falling down, causing a delay before the gold reaches a safer area for collection. In order to maximize Vaunt, the player will have to select and switch between targets efficiently, considering the amount of gold rewarded by each target and player position relative to new targets, incoming gold, and enemy projectiles.

No advantages in subjecting yourself to this... except for bragging rights.

Favoring position and target selection over weaving becomes more apparent in boss battles. In DoDonPachi, bosses are typically very large, so you can focus on bullet pattern recognition and weaving while firing blindly anywhere, and you’re still likely to be dealing damage. Bosses in Jamestown have smaller, layered weak points. You’ll have to systematically destroy parts of the boss in order to reveal the weak point, and only then will you be able to deal direct damage.

Destroy the green orbs on the ship to expose the middle.

The horizontal orientation also provides some unique challenges to Jamestown. Most bullet-hell shmups have a top-down vertical orientation making the top a higher risk area from the bottom. In Touhou Project games, even if some bosses are small, there’s some distance between top and bottom for you to analyze, react to incoming projectiles, and jockey for position; the center bottom is just a tad more risky from left/right bottom (assuming the boss is at the center also). Top-down but horizontally-oriented Jamestown increases the risk of the bottom middle area by having a boss’ weak point in the middle (most of the time) where there is less room to react.

Crowded in the middle. Not much goin' on over here on the right.

There are quite a few unique challenges that arise from Jamestown’s single player, the most obvious being the sole candidate of a targeted attack. Some attacks are aimed directly at players, and in single player that means everyone’s reticules are on you. You’ll have to be constantly moving when there are targeted attacks which may force you out of gold’s way or away from some other strategic position. In multiplayer, some players can draw some of the attention enabling others to deal damage or get gold triggered by others.

Another challenge is in single-player boss fights. The boss parts you’ll have to destroy to expose the weak point are typically on the sides. This gives you a large distance to traverse and requires you to cross the high-risk middle area before the weak point is exposed. Multiplayer can have people on either side so you only worry about the middle when the weak point is exposed. If you’re not score-conscious, Vaunt shields in single-player are limited to you since there are no other players that can Vaunt to save you.

Blue orbs on the left. Wobbly stream of bullets in the middle.

There are some things going for you in single player. The enemies have less hit points. If you can manage to take them, all the gold is yours to keep your Vaunt up. There’s also slightly less screen clutter as only your bullets will add to the confusion on the screen (though the chaos of four-players-worth of projectiles + enemy projectiles does sound fun ^^).

Title Screen

In all, even if Final Form Games developed Jamestown with multiplayer in mind, single-player is solid. The top-down horizontal orientation brings some unique challenges and the Vaunt mechanic stresses more target selection than weaving, but the game’s core is intact, single or multiplayer. If you’re new to the genre, the escalating difficulty and challenge modes will let you hone your skills. If the mechanics and focus don’t turn you off, even with some caveats on single-player, Jamestown is definitely worth the getting.


[Video via Jamestown’s official site. Screenshots based on Steam version of the game purchased by the author. Review based on Jamestown’s single-player campaign.]

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