When I was younger I had almost zero interest in history, but as I’ve gotten older I find myself wanting to learn about the past. Something I used to take for granted when playing video games was when a game was based in a real-world setting in the past, often I’d find myself not really caring – it didn’t help that most of these games were in genres that I didn’t like. That’s why I was immediately intrigued when I heard about the new 2D action platformer, Heidelberg 1693, which is set in a horror-themed 17th-century Europe. Developed by Andrade Games and published by Red Art Games, Heidelberg 1693 follows the path set by Andrade’s first game released on Xbox, Sturm Front – The Mutant War, a gory arcade-style game taking heavy inspiration from the classics of the late 1980s.
Heidelberg 1693 takes place in what could be an alternate version of our history in what we now call Germany, but with unspeakable horrors everywhere such as zombies, demons, and evil spirits. I liken the setting to the Pride and Prejudice: Zombies version of The Three Musketeers. The character you play is in fact a musketeer, from France, who is under the command of Louis XIV. The story is told through monotone colored montages, which try to evoke the appearance of a silent film. The Cliff Notes version is that there is an evil entity known as the Moon King who through science has unleashed a slew of unspeakable evils on the land. You must battle your way through twenty-plus levels, all filled with undead monstrosities, in order to stop the Moon King, save your homeland, and protect your king.
The gameplay in Heidelberg 1693 is a strange but welcome combination of both novel and familiar. It’s a 2D action game with a focus on combat as well as some platforming elements. It reminds me somewhat of the Ghosts ‘n Goblins franchise, not only because of the morbid setting but also because of the fast arcade-like gameplay that can be overly difficult. Fortunately, the movement in Heidelberg is more forgiving than GnG, which always felt too stiff for me.
The developers have done an excellent job of incorporating a believable moveset for the musketeer protagonist, and everything is animated wonderfully. Besides the movement buttons, there are only three other inputs. Your main form of attack is your trusty rapier, which can be swung a few times consecutively. Despite being the same few swipes every time, the animation for this continues to intrigue me because of how fluid it is. There are two additional moves that can be performed with the sword, the first is a jumping spin attack that doubles as a double jump (more like a 1.5x jump), allowing you to reach slightly farther away ledges and platforms. The second additional move is a downward plunge that can be performed anytime you are airborne by pressing down. This can be used not only to damage enemies but also to break certain obstacles; unfortunately, they don’t make use of this move in the level design as much as I would like.
Another aspect of the gameplay that I felt was underused is the sub-weapon system. There are sub-weapons that can occasionally be found, such as a pistol or a shield attached to a balloon. You gain a few uses when you pick one up; however, you can only have one sub-weapon in your inventory at any given time. This system reminded me a bit of the one found in the original Castlevania games. This system has been borrowed countless times before, but the best uses of it are when the game gives you a sub-weapon right before an instance where it would be very useful. That was the case a few times in this game, but most of the time I felt like the sub-weapons were an afterthought, and half of them are pretty much useless. A shield on a balloon? I mean come on, what is that?
Rounding out your moveset is the musketeer’s reliable and namesake musket. Supposedly the developers spent an inordinate amount of time getting it to the point where they felt it was “just right”. It feels good, but I would have never guessed that they spent more time on that than anything else. You can bring up your musket by holding the left trigger, you can change the aim by moving the right joystick up or down, and then once you are ready to fire you do so by pressing X. The musket can really help in some situations because there are enemies that also use muskets and other ranged weapons which can make approaching them for a saber kill rather tricky. There is a risk-reward factor associated with the musket; once you fire the weapon you need to reload it before using it again. The animation for this takes three seconds or so but feels like an hour when you’re in the heat of battle. Heidelberg features a unique system in which the enemies can damage each other, which adds a layer of strategy to the gameplay; letting an enemy act as a zombie shield feels satisfying every time.
Similar to GnG there is a map that you work your way across in Heidelberg 1693 that depicts the surrounding area. This is illustrated in the same monotone art style as the cut scenes which I think is a missed opportunity, they could have gone for a really intricate and detailed game world map – I know that the developer is a talented artist based on the exquisite pixel art used for the main game. Each level is depicted as a small circle on the map, and you can freely select the available levels to play from the level select screen. There are multiple paths to take to get to your final destination as well as multiple endings depending on which levels you passed through. I really liked this aspect of the game; I always appreciate games with secrets and Heidelberg delivers in that department, offering a fair amount of replayability due to the different paths you can take, both secret and in plain sight.
The biggest complaint I have with Heidelberg 1693 is the difficulty, which borders on unfair. I know the developer wanted to recapture some of the old-school arcade and NES flavor, but there are just too many aspects that drag down the experience. For example, when you respawn you start with only one health heart. There are usually some replacements to find nearby, but it’s just an unnecessary feature to design the game in this way. Throughout most of the game, there is this one particular enemy that follows you everywhere you go, almost haunting you. It has the ability to reanimate fallen enemies as well as spawn floating skulls that encircle the screen. Worst of all, occasionally huge blades will appear and rotate around the enemy, causing multiple hearts worth of damage if you are unfortunate enough to touch one. As far as I know, this enemy cannot be killed. I think this is an interesting idea, but perhaps this enemy should have been used only in certain levels or situations.
Andrade games have created a unique 2D homage to the games of yesteryear while adding a fair amount of new ideas and gameplay. The macabre setting is portrayed perfectly with fantastically detailed pixel art. While there are a few questionable choices made in the game’s overall design, anyone who is a fan of old-school 2D action platformers should definitely give this a try, alternatively, if you want to experience an over-the-top, horror-themed 17th-century Europe depicted in fantastic pixel art then Heidelberg 1693 is the game for you.Become a Patron!
This game was reviewed based on Xbox One review code, using an Xbox One console. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.