Jamestown is a bullet-hell, top-down shoot ‘em up set in an alternate 17th century on Mars. That ludicrous premise helped propel the game when it first launched on Steam in 2011. Now, almost four years after the initial release, Jamestown+ has hit the PlayStation 4 and it feels even better as a couch co-op game that you can play with four friends.
Jamestown is set in an alternate 17th century, where humanity is living on Mars. The Spanish fleet is attempting to seize control of the planet. As a space version of Walter Raleigh, you need to stop their armada, as well as the Martians that the Spanish have teamed with from destroying Jamestown. If that sounds delightfully weird, it’s because it is.
Jamestown+ is a top down, bullet-hell shmup (shoot ‘em up) pure and simple. For those unfamiliar with the genre, the objective of these type of games is to dodge thousands of enemy bullets, while shooting as many enemies as you possibly can. It is also an incredibly difficult game to finish, even after hours of playing.
However, despite how difficult Jamestown eventually becomes, the game does a masterful job of slowly introducing newcomers to the genre through a few different methods. The first is the ability to “Vaunt.” After killing enemies, they will drop small cogs and nuts. Collecting these will increase your Vaunt meter. When it’s full, you will have a brief window of invincibility, as well as a charged weapon. This ability is crucial when you get overwhelmed by enemy bullets, as it allows you to have a small window of safety.
Another way the game slowly introduces difficulty is by requiring you to play levels multiple times on multiple difficulties to get all of the rewards. After playing the first three levels on the normal difficulty, the game will lock access to the fourth level until you’ve beaten the three levels on the second level of difficulty. After beating the fourth level, you need to go back and beat the levels once again, only this time on an even higher level of difficulty. It means that you can learn enemy patterns and movements, and gives you a real chance to master using each ship.
This whole experience would likely be highly frustrating if you were to play this game alone. Thankfully, Jamestown+ features four player co-op. While the initial Steam release did feature local co-op, since this is on a console, it feels like the perfect kind of game to gather some friends around and try to wreak havoc on the forces of the Spanish/Martian Armada.
Jamestown+ adds in two new levels, with new story content. These levels can be incredibly difficult, but also help to unlock another major addition: new ships with multiple designs. Each of the new ships feature the ability to be customized with different attacks. This, however, does highlight a major issue with the main game: how little the money you gain actually means.
At the end of each level, you get rewarded with money based on how well you performed in the level and on what difficulty you played. This money, in theory, could be used to buy new ships to play with. However, once you’ve found your ship of choice, it can be incredibly jarring to switch to a new ship. When you’ve found a ship you like, it seems like you want to stick with that ship, just because you know exactly what to expect from it. While you can use the money to buy other things like the brilliant “Farce” mode, which makes the story sound like it has been told by a child, money almost becomes irrelevant if you like your ship. While you can upgrade the newly added ships, they don’t give you the option to upgrade the ships featured in the original game.
Another odd choice was making the “Gunpowder, Treason and Plot” DLC still a DLC. It was originally released months after the first game. You might figure that this would be included in the PSN version by default, but instead, it’s still a separate entity. It’s a shame too because the Treason ship is incredibly effective, due to it having homing missiles that can shoot enemies, even when you are out of their line of sight.
Jamestown+ still feels like an immensely good intro course to bullet hell games. It’s easily accessible with multiplayer and its insane narrative adds to the joy of playing it. It’s challenging but gives you the tools that you need to conquer it. While a few minor tweaks would have been nice to see with this release, it still feels like the perfect couch co-op shooter.
SCORE: 8.5 out of 10
A code for Jamestown+ and the Gunpowder, Treason and Plot DLC was provided to Pixel Related for review.