#462: Heidelberg 1693

A gory love letter to 2D horror action

Initial release: 2021
Developer: Andrade Games
Platform: PC

It’s funny how much of collective geek culture in the west owes its existence to Japan. From anime to video games, to the samurai flicks of the 60s and 70s and America’s long fascination with J-horror, we’re deeply influenced by Japanese nerds who in turn were influenced by American pop culture. In terms of video games, you can see this kind of cultural interchange in the relatively recent rise of 2D horror platformers, especially in the “Metroidvania” genre (which owes half its name to Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) but also in more straightforward arcade fare like Wallachia: Reign of Dracula or SLAIN!

Heidelberg 1693 owes a hell of a lot to this history; drawing from the likes of Castlevania and Ghosts n’ Goblins, with a heavy dose of Berserk, German indie outfit Andrade Games has brought to the world a 2D action horror platformer with a twist: aside from your standard rapier, you’re also armed with a musket that must be reloaded after every shot. It’s rare that games feature weapons like this, and it’s even rarer that they’re in a 2D platformer. But it adds an interesting new dimension to what’s otherwise a pretty straightforward action platformer — albeit an extremely bloody one.

There’s a story, of course — some nonsense about King Louis XIV’s evil twin building a monstrous army in Heidelberg, Germany towards the end of the 17th century, and you, a nameless, plucky Musketeer, have been tasked with ending the threat, all of it presented in brief, sketchy slideshows between levels. But as is often the case with games like this, the story just doesn’t matter at all. And why should it? It gets in the way of the action.

Heidelberg 1693 is a beautiful game, in that its pixel art aesthetic doesn’t hide its gross, gory aesthetic. Each sprite is beautifully animated; background elements give a sense of a bigger world than just what’s in front of you. The Musketeer has three walk cycles based on how fast he’s moving, which is delightful. There’s all kinds of delightful little touches, like zombie priests will cross themselves before exploding into a shower of gore. Overall, it’s got a dark, gloomy aesthetic that’s reminiscent of Ghouls n’ Ghosts, cartoonish and grotesque. It’s fantastic.

Where it falls down a little is in gameplay. The basic combat model is generally fine, the musket mechanic adds a lot of tension as you can’t cancel out of the animation unless you take damage. I wish the Musketeer had more agility overall, though, but he’s limited to a basic spinning double jump attack and a downward thrust. The musket can be difficult to aim as the game doesn’t tell you where it’s pointing as you adjust the angle; it also doesn’t bother to tell you that you can fire the musket in midair, an extremely useful fact that I only learned by accident fighting the final boss and it was the thing I needed to actually clear the encounter after a dozen tries. And while you can get better muskets, don’t expect to keep them as you lose them when you die.

Oh, yes, the difficulty. While the game is far more forgiving than, say, Wallachia or even Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, in that you have infinite lives, it must be said that checkpoints can be a bit far apart, and worse yet, you start every new respawn with only one heart; some checkpoints are in a position where unless you think quickly, you’ll die immediately. And the gameplay is sheer chaos as a rule; generally, don’t expect to no-damage this game. There’s also somewhat of a lack of polish; the game doesn’t bother hiding its Unity engine log on startup, and in several spots it’s easy to just climb into the walls, or even on top of the screen, Mario-style, bypassing whole chunks of the levels.

Boss fights are somewhere between easy and bullshit; while they all follow easily-recognizable patterns, actually doing something about it is another matter. My favorite is probably the boss of the town levels, a resurrected general who you face in a defiled church as organ music blasts and every time he blows his horn he summons riflemen to shoot at you

The game is definitely surmountable even for a scrub like me, and you’ll always be able to start a new game from any level you choose once you’ve gotten to it, so you can drop the game and come back later if necessary. It’s worth persevering in spite of the difficulty.

Heidelberg 1693 is a beautifully absurd little game with its own twist on a classic formula, a great soundtrack, and gloriously gross aesthetic. And it can be gotten through in a matter of hours. For the $14.99 asking price, what more could you ask for?

-june❤

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