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Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony

What makes Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony such an exciting entry in a genre long on the decline is the way it embraces retro ideas without interrupting them with convoluted gimmicks or attempts to fix what isn’t broken. Yearning for the design of late-90’s Shmups, most notably those within Treasure’s fine catalogue, Jamestown is informed by a whimsical premise, matched by pure, refined gameplay.

Separating it from the Old Guards of traditionalist design is a sense for farcical narrative. Displacing historical accuracy in favor of something more digestible, Jamestown proposes an asinine, much exaggerated plot which lends a spin of historical revisionism to the series of events which led to the British colonizing America. Firstly, the famed ‘lost colony’ of Jamestown happens to be on Mars and is inhabited by brutally savage natives who’ve taken up mechs, in their hostile reception of the oncoming fleets of British soldiers.

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Implying a grand location through lovely hand drawn backgrounds, Jamestown fulfills one of the most important elements of a Shmup. More essential to the game is the way this is all integrated – how the enemies drop delightfully sizeable ducats, upon defeat; how the aesthetics feel charmingly informed by the period’s context; what this less-than-rigid approach to history allows the developers in terms of freedom for creative control.

At its center, Jamestown plays like so many bullet hell games preceding it. The experience is all about the simple memorization of patterns, inherently pure and familiar. There’s one standout new feature; a ‘vaunt’ mechanic, which allows players to expand a shield around themselves, to soak in bullets, or if used properly, to enhance lengthy combos.

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While single-screen multiplayer’s included, there’s no such option for online. This is a shame, as Jamestown’s certainly much, much more fun when played with others, in so far that it almost seems crucial to the design. What keeps that from being a point of contention is how well the controls are implemented. Whether playing with keyboard, mouse, or controller, it feels highly polished regardless of your preference, making it an easier sell, if only you can gather a group around a single computer for long enough.

There’s a significant deal of content here, ranging from the well-devised single-player campaign to challenge packs which can be purchased for the right number of ducats in the in-game store. These challenges cater to the specific mechanics of the game, working as a sort of continual tutorial. Conveyances for three extra ships can also be purchased from famed English explorers, each providing variations in shot types, giving them the right edge in specific areas and challenges.

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Jamestown: Legend of The Lost Colony is a fun Shmup that remembers to keep things simple. The appeal here is in the core action – never becoming confused with any half-baked mechanics or over-used ideas. The most promising thing about this Indie title is that not only is it often in the same league as the classics it imitates, but that it often rises above and beyond those influences, standing as one of the best original entries seen in years.

8 out of 10

The author of this fine article

is an Associate Editor at Thunderbolt, having joined in July 2007. Get in touch on Twitter @Calvin_Kemph.

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