Originally released back in 2011 as Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony, Final Form Games' superlative shmup received almost unanimous praise as a slick and stylish shooter with engaging – and easy to understand – core mechanics. Playable in both solo and four-player local co-op, Jamestown+ is a beautiful, hand-crafted tribute to Cave classics that welcomes newcomers to the genre with a pleasingly gentle learning curve whilst at the same time providing the absolutely fiendish levels of difficulty and replayability aficionados of the genre demand. It also happens to feature gloriously evocative and detailed pixel art alongside a fully orchestrated – and award-winning – soundtrack.
Jamestown+, the version you're getting your hands on here, was originally released back in 2015, and adds a new side-story to proceedings featuring two excellent new levels set in and around the moon and a bunch of new ships to master as you blast your way across the surface of 17th Century British Colonial Mars in the main campaign. There's also been some level tweaks, background and enemy art revisions, 5.1 surround sound support and a brand new UI added to freshen things up.
The central hook of Jamestown's thrilling gameplay is its vaunt mechanic. The various different ships you can unlock as you earn coins playing through the main campaign all come with assorted light and heavy attacks, but the one constant between them is vaunting. As you decimate enemy craft you'll pick up the chunks of gold they leave behind which charges up a little gauge in the top left-hand corner of the screen; max it out and hit A to enter vaunt mode. This temporarily creates a little bullet-deflecting shield around your ship, increases your maximum damage output and gives you a score multiplier.
Keep collecting gold in vaunt mode and you can potentially stay in this heightened state for entire levels – if you're skilled enough – and it's in trying to achieve this that the game really sinks its hooks into you, getting you right into that addictive zen-like shooter flow. Strategically triggering vaunt to deflect damage at just the right moment then blasting hard and fast through enemies, hoovering up all that delicious gold in order to keep yourself in this beefed-up state, raking up points on that score multiplier as you dole out massive amounts of damage and make your way up the online leaderboards... it really is endlessly addictive stuff.
It's a sublimely simple system that's also fiendishly compelling. The controls feel perfect, everything zips past beautifully smoothly, enemies explode into satisfying pieces and the various weapons you'll get your hands on as you unlock the twelve ships on offer here deal out satisfyingly devastating amounts of damage. Boss battles are uniformly well-designed and every level you enter looks and sounds incredible. This really is a supremely well-made game. Whether you're zooming over some Colonial village, blasting Martians as inhabitants flee for their lives or duking it out across dramatic wind and rainswept space vistas against huge alien craft, every chapter here is top-notch from a presentation perspective.
Alongside the five main levels featured in the central campaign and the two all-new story levels set on the moon, you've also got the Gauntlet, a challenge-style mode which sees you trying to survive multiple levels at various difficulties with a limited number of continues. You can also unlock a Farce Mode in the game's shop which retells the main campaign in comedy fashion, as well as lots of different challenge packs which help add longevity to proceedings by charging you with all manner of tough little missions and challenges to carry out as you replay the stages on offer.
One thing that newcomers may find rubs them the wrong way (initially at least) is that, in order to play later levels in the main campaign, you'll need to complete the first few levels at higher difficulties than just the default normal setting and – if you want to gain access to the final stage – the game charges you with besting all previous missions on Legendary difficulty. It's certainly a bold choice, but really we feel like even a cursory amount of time spent learning the levels and getting to grips with the very simple core mechanics of the game should see you through this challenge in pretty short order.
We can also see exactly why the developers chose to make players replay missions in harder difficulties. Playing in normal mode here really does allow you to sleep on the job; there's very little challenge from enemies and you really don't even need to bother deploying your vaunt mode to see your way through missions. Upping the ante ensures that you get the engage with the systems at play and get the most out of the experience. Legendary isn't the top difficulty here, either; it's far from obnoxious and doesn't require the lightning-fast reflexes of the much harder Divine and Judgement difficulties.
This Switch port of Jamestown+ runs perfectly in both docked and portable modes and looks and sounds fantastic whilst doing so; during our extended time blasting through the various levels and challenges on offer we experienced zero technical hiccups or framerate problems. This is a pristine version of a brilliant shmup whose bite-sized, highly replayable levels and generous supply of unlockable ships, shot-types and challenges suit the quick-dip nature of Nintendo's console perfectly. The lack of online co-op is a shame, but by no means a deal-breaker.
Jamestown+ is another brilliant addition to the Nintendo Switch's ever-expanding library of excellent shmups. Easy to pick up for newcomers and with the ferocious difficulty expected by aficionados of the genre, it's a slick and stylish shooter – just as much fun in solo mode as it is in four-player co-op – with a unique and zany setting that gets its hooks into you quickly and keeps them there. It may not add anything revolutionary or particularly new to the genre and the omission of online co-op play is a shame, but what's here is supremely engaging and polished stuff that's pretty much essential for Switch-owning shooter fans.