STAFF REVIEW of Heidelberg 1693 (Xbox One)

Friday, December 30, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

Heidelberg 1693 Box art Developed by Andrade Games, Heidelberg 1693 is an alternative take on history that revolves around a Musketeer and an endless amount of zombies and undead constantly trying to murder you at every step. “Survive Morbid” is the official subtitle, and absolutely fitting. A Castlevania clone at its core, Heidelberg 1693 is a 2D action adventure with hints of Ghouls 'n Ghosts and even some classic Prince of Persia.

Having done a little research on Musketeers after playing this, they were a very important soldier type who guarded the French King back in the 17th and 18th centuries. Essentially the beginning of a standard rifleman, they were armed with a musket, a long barrel firearm that was deadly but very slow to reload due to the primitive technology back then. And thus, you’re an unnamed musketeer, which is blatantly obvious due to the oversized hat with large feather, who King Louis XIV has sent to destroy his bastard son. King Louis XIV was also known as the Sun King, so of course the antagonist, his bastard son, is the Moon King. Featuring real historical people and places, they of course take some liberties with the historical accuracies, as I don’t remember a mass zombie plague in the history books. Why send his army to defeat the Moon King when he can send you, alone? And so begins your adventure fighting a mass of undead abominations whom the Moon King has transformed all the surrounding inhabitants to stop you.

While the levels themselves aren’t long in design, each will take a while due to the amount of times you’ll die and have to start over from the last checkpoint you reached. As you complete each stage, you’ll make your way across the lands, though the story plays out like a silent movie between most stages which is interesting given the setting, but hard to get you invested in the narrative.

As a 2D platformer that looks as though it came out of the classic era of gaming, Heidelberg 1693 is going to take a good amount of memorization, trial and error, and perseverance to complete. Sure, there’s speedruns out there that make the game’s difficulty look like a joke, but for an average player you expect to die quite often until you can adjust and react to each level’s enemy patterns, attacks and traps. As you traverse each level from left to right, you’ll need to survive against an onslaught of unrelenting undead enemies. These start out as simple lurking zombies that are easy to kill, but eventually you’ll have a number of other types of monstrosities, like floating skull heads, corpse tossers, other musket users and more, and that’s not even including the environmental traps like massive spinning blades and deadly pits. To keep with the horror theme, there’s a heavy coat of blood, guts and gore, keeping that uneasy theme recurring throughout.

To get around the levels and survive you’ll need to be able to jump and reach all the different platforms to progress. There’s even a double jump included, because of course a 2D action platformer needs a double jump, but this is where I find some of the issues arise. When you double jump you automatically also do a spin attack with your sword, which is fine and used for fighting enemies, but this also leaves you defenseless for a moment once you land as well. You also have a down thrust attack which is great for dealing extra damage for enemies directly below you.

Couple this with some iffy controls when it comes to precise movement, and you can probably start to see where some of my frustration came into play. Certain areas only give you the smallest fraction of a spot to land safely, but doing so is incredibly difficult at the best of times, causing a lot of unfair deaths. That’s also not even factoring the general chaos that’s generally happening on screen at all times either with projectiles and handfuls of enemies all trying to kill you.

Armed with just a trusty sword and musket, you’ll need to be patience and clever to survive what’s trying to destroy you. Level design is done well in the sense that enemy placements are generally in tricky to reach spots or at difficult angles to add more challenge. It’s rare when there’s a generally flat sections where you can simply swipe your sword back and forth, carving a pathway through the undead. Instead, expect perched enemies up high trying to toss projectiles at you, making traversing challenging. Also, you better keep an eye on those that you’ve killed, because they may need a second shot to kill them for good so they don’t come back to life if you stay around too long, though this generally never really because an issue and more seemed like a waste of ammo.

You’re a Musketeer though, so naturally you’d think that the majority of your combat would focus on this. It does to an extent, but remember that muskets shot one bullet at a time before needing a lengthy reload, and it’s no different here in Heidelberg 1693. While quite powerful, your musket requires you to reload after each shot before use again, and this takes quite a while and leaves you vulnerable. Because of the general chaos always happening, there’s not many opportune times to reload so it becomes almost a game of trying to find the right moment to reload when you need it most.

There’s also a weird mechanic to actually shooting, as you need to aim with the Right Stick, but you’re seemingly restricted to shooting between certain angles, and without any sort of aimer or cursor you’re going to likely miss a good amount of your shots in the heat of battle, again, leading to some more deaths. Ammo is generally scarce as well, and you can only carry a handful of ammunition at a time, so I tended to rely on my musket for more ‘oh crap’ last ditch effort attacks to try and survive. Thankfully along with ammo, health pickups can appear too, so make sure to defeat any enemies or slash any hanging corpses you can; you never know what may fall out of them.

What I didn’t really expect though was how enemies can hit one another. It took me a while to try and use this to my advantage, as eventually I would try and position myself behind another enemy so that when I was being shot at from afar, they would kill the enemy in front of me instead. Easier said than done when there’s a lot happening at once and you’re frustrated from trying a level for the thirtieth time because the difficulty spiked out of nowhere.

Heidelberg 1693 sports some great pixelated aesthetics, oversaturated in blood and darkness. Animation is done quite well for you and enemy movement and attacks, I was just a little let down with the storyboard version of the narrative as it’s basically a slideshow. While no voice acting, the gushy sounds of things constantly dying is satisfying, as is the brooding soundtrack that subtly sets the tone in the background.

While it won’t be as iconic as its Castlevania or Ghouls 'n Ghosts influences, Heidelberg 1693 is sure to scratch that itch for those yearning for a similar title. Boss battles are large and the highlight of the experience, though infrequent between the random and challenging difficulty spikes.

**Heidelberg 1693 was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 6.7 / 10
Gameplay: 6.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.5 / 10


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