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No Kool-Aid Involved

November 29, 2012

Every once in a while, I feel the need to put aside the triple-A manshooting games and work on regaining my Indie Game Hipster Cred.  This last week has been a banner week for that, with Bastion, Limbo, and now Jamestown.

For extra hipster cred, I’ve been playing them on my Mac.  Turns out that this little Mini actually pushes pixels pretty well.

For the record – and just because I’ve gotten the two mixed up in my head a couple of times – Jamestown was the first permanent colony in the Americas and has nothing to do with Jonestown, which had a much less salubrious history.

Jamestown-the-game doesn’t have a whole lot to do with Jamestown-the-place, though it does use it as the jumping-off point for a particularly entertaining alternate history “what if…”, that being “what if the New World of 1619 was Mars, and not North America? Oh, and also what if there were martians and giant mecha piloted by Spanish conquistadors?”

You have to admit, that’s a hell of an enticing “What if..”.

It also has an enjoyable pixels-everywhere-look-at-those-pixels art style that manages to come out JUST on the right side of the charming vs. painfully ironic divide and the music is heavenly.

Oh, and it’s a bullet hell shooter and I loves me some bullet hell.

Despite these things in its favor, I’d put off playing Jamestown for a few months, simply because – while I love me some bullet hell shooters – I’m not particularly GOOD at most examples of the genre and I’d heard that Jamestown commits one of my Cardinal Sins.

That sin, of course, being that it doesn’t allow me to blow through the whole thing on Easy for a sense of light accomplishment.

It turned out not to be an issue.

The main story of Jamestown consists of five levels, and you can only play the first three on the starting difficulty of Normal.  Unlocking the fourth level requires playing the first three on Difficult, and unlocking the fifth level requires playing the first four on Legendary.

I blew through the first three levels on Normal, hit the “Thanks for playing! Try something harder next time!” screen and decided to go for broke and just start over on Legendary, skipping the whole “Difficult” difficulty level.

Inside of two hours, I was looking at ending credits.  I’m not that good at shooters, so Legendary difficulty may be a little misnamed in this case.  I am carefully going to avoid going back and trying any of the harder difficulties, as I have a nice buzz on about actually playing through a game on something other than Easy and don’t want that to be crushed under the heel of reality, but it did make me feel a little silly about putting playing the game off for so long out of fear of the difficulty.

Part of what pushes it into the “playable difficulty level” category, as compared to so many bullet hell shooters, is the playfield.  Most shooters of this type are designed for, or at least designed to emulate, a vertical arcade monitor – you have lots of up-and-down room but very little side to side.  Jamestown is a vertical shooter with a horizontal playfield, so you have tons of room to dodge and swerve around the sprays of bright pink and blue death being spat your way.  It’s a game designed to be played by up to four people, mind you, and you need that kind of space when you’re dealing with three other players on the same screen, but it’s a luxuriously spacious feeling when you’re playing solo.

This is made painfully clear in the last level which abandons the wide open nature of the first few levels for some tight and twisty corridors.

I died an awful lot on this level.  Of course, you’re SUPPOSED to die a lot on the last level of a shooter.

Getting through it required getting really good at Jamestown’s Signature Gimmick – and every shooter needs a Signature Gimmick, of course.

See, as you defeat enemies, they spit out giant gold bolts and gears and other steampunky geegaws.  Picking these up fills a meter.  Once the meter is full, you can press a button to get a temporary bullet absorbing shield.  Your shot power also gets doubled and there’s a score modifier, it’s pretty fun.

The shield only lasts for a few seconds, but the extra shot power lasts considerably longer – and you can actually keep it going if you keep picking up bolts and such.

OR… you can press the same button again, lose your extra shot power and your extra score multiplier, and get a PAINFULLY short-duration bullet absorbing shield, after which your meter is empty and you need to start collecting from zero again.

Knowing when to sacrifice firepower for a couple of seconds of invulnerability is key to making it through the last level.  It had a bit of a learning curve, but it was one of those hellaciously satisfying accomplishments once I’d figured it out.

Anyway, to sum up: Damn Fine Shooter and a great way to experience the genre.

 

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