When creating a game meant to pay tribute to a particular type of beloved game genre, the all-important line that divides "enjoyable nostalgia piece" and "the same crap you've already played a hundred times before" is one too often crossed. Many times a developer will simply bank on nostalgia carrying a game entirely, as if simply making a thing like the thing people know is all you need to make a game fun. Fun fact: it isn't.
Final Form Games seems deeply aware of this narrow line, and manages to stay on the right side of it all throughout Jamestown, a loving homage to the top-down scrolling shooters of olden-day arcades. Final Form infuse Jamestown with precisely the right mix of nostalgic good feelings and original mechanics to make it stand out as far more than just another genre also-ran.
Much of Jamestown's immediate appeal comes from its setting. Set on 17th-century Mars--don't ask questions, just go with it--you play as Raleigh, a condemned criminal who travels to the British colony of Roanoke...on Mars. There, you find a world ravaged by war between the Red Coats and a terrifying army of futuristic ships and tentacled aliens controlled by an insidious Spanish Conquistador.
This is all told through a mix of pixelated cutscenes and surprisingly detailed background art. Jamestown employs a legitimately attractive 2D art style, full of cool-looking sprites and explosive effects that rival some of the old arcade greats. More to the point though, it invokes the bizarre storyline without getting too wordy about it. The few cutscenes there are move quickly to get you into the action, but the in-game graphics do a fine job of maintaining the peculiar hodgepodge of 17th-century futurism. From the game's opening moments, you're already seeing Red Coat soldiers firing muskets at laser-firing ships and alien grotesqueries. It's bananas, but in the best way possible.
Where Jamestown really shines is in its gameplay. On the surface, the game offers up a fairly standard style of top-down shooting, with a variety of ship types that each come with different weaponry. Enemies deliver the typical brand of bullet hell challenge as well, barfing difficult-to-dodge dots at you in varying quantities.
However, there's a great deal more depth here than meets the initial eye, thanks largely to the cleverly designed "vaunt" system. As you defeat enemies, you collect gold trinkets from their exploded wreckage, which in turn fills up your vaunt meter. Once it's filled, the vaunt mechanic does a number of things: it gives off a temporary bullet shield that turns you momentarily invincible, raises the power of your weaponry by a factor of two, and also doubles the score for each defeated enemy. As the meter drains, you can keep it going by collecting more gold, or even terminate it early to generate a second temporary invincibility shield.
This adds quite a bit of complexity to what is otherwise a reasonably straightforward shooter, especially once you start playing in co-op. Up to four players can jump in at once, and in co-op, the vaunt system uses a bit of a Rock Band-inspired stacking system, where each player that activates their vaunt stacks the scoring one multiplier higher. It's crazy fun, though it is somewhat limited by the lack of online play. Still, if you've got a few friends and a few gamepads handy, you'll have a blast.
Jamestown is also somewhat limited in content. Like the classics of the arcade, there are only a handful of levels to play through. However, each level features five different difficulty levels, and some of the later levels can only be unlocked after defeating earlier levels on higher settings. It's a game that encourages multiple playthroughs for both progression and higher scores, not to mention currency with which to purchase additional content, like alternate play modes and ships.
While the experience is still somewhat fleeting, the quality of Jamestown's content, coupled with its reasonable $10 price tag on Steam, make it an easy recommendation for any PC-owning shooter fan. Its wild premise is surprisingly well-realized, and its shooting is top-notch. Put simply, it is a game that stacks up as well, if not better than many of the classics it's so clearly inspired by.