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Heidelberg 1693 Review

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Another day, another retro styled game heaves itself into view, and to be honest, I’m starting to get a little bit tired of this style of game. 

Still, putting personal feelings aside, let’s see what Heidelberg 1693 can bring to the table, described as a challenging 2D action adventure set in a dark and twisted version of Germany by the developers, Andrade Games. Now, I’ve typed that same description a few times recently, but the promise of an interesting new mechanic is enough to make me sit up a little bit straighter and give this game a chance. So, come with me to Germany…

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Heidelberg 1693 comes with a pretty bonkers story. You remember way back in the 17th Century, when France had a ruler called Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King? Well, the game features said Sun King, and his mission to bring his version of the Sun to all the people of Europe. Of course, this brings him into conflict with the rest of the world as well as his bastard son (the game’s description, not mine!), who has styled himself as the Moon King. Now, as the moon only appears in darkness, it seems that the Moon King has decided the best way to beat his dear old dad is to embrace the powers of darkness. The scene is therefore set for an epic battle. Surely Louis XIV will be sending an entire army to meet this threat, right? Well, not so much. They have sent our character, a musketeer, to do solo battle with the rest of the army of the Undead. Where’s Bruce Campbell when you need him?

Presentation wise, Heidelberg 1693 looks and feels quite a lot like Castlevania. This is obviously a compliment as the series of games from Konami are pretty much the benchmark for side scrolling action adventures. That in itself means we are off to a good start. The main character is recognisably a Musketeer, the enemies are either enemy soldiers or monsters, and the bosses are pretty much off the scale for sheer craziness. The game moves smoothly though, and while the graphics chip of your console is unlikely to be overloaded by what is on display here, it all looks pretty good. 

It’s a likewise compliment for the sound too – swishing swords and gunshots ringing out, alongside the various vocalisations of the monsters. The design of the story, the way it is presented in satanic cutscenes, and the clever creation of the characters is all pretty great, and so far, all is looking groovy. 

But we need to talk about the way Heidelberg 1693 plays, and here there is good news, and bad news. Let’s start with the good, as we are largely glass half full people down here, and the most interesting thing to talk about is the shooting mechanic. 

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You see, in the old days, shooting was something that didn’t happen quickly. Once you had shot your load, there was a whole routine to go through before you were ready to shoot again. There was the putting in of the powder, the wadding, the musket ball itself, and so on. This mechanic has been brought into the game. You can shoot, but you then have to stand still to reload, and this is tricky. Best saved for bosses, I feel!

Luckily, you also have a sword, and running left to right and swiping at monsters and human enemies becomes second nature pretty quickly. In a reciprocal move, the enemy gunners that you come across have to go through the same rigmarole to try and shoot you, and so if you can dodge their first shot, you have a window of opportunity to wander up and poke them with your blade. Of course you can choose to shoot whenever you fancy, but the risk/reward mechanic is very well worked out. In fact, the actual combat is pretty good, until you get to a boss. 

The thing is, what Heidelberg 1693 really, really needs is a dodge mechanic, as the boss fights are ridiculously hard. You could have waltzed through the level, dispatching monsters hither and yon, and the instant the boss appears, all bets are off. Projectiles, charging moves across the width of the screen, all these and more are deployed, and there is no easy way to get away from the attacks. 

A large part of the issue is the weird jumping mechanic; it doesn’t really work. In most games, a double jump is something that can either be used or earned, but here, when you press the jump button again in the air, your character does a kind of spinning attack that will move you a little higher, but will then leave you completely defenceless until you land. Jumping is also very imprecise, with real issues around leaping over gaps to other platforms. In a game where the difference between life and death can often be a pixel or two, the lack of precision does cost you a lot of avoidable deaths. 

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The bosses are also a bit of a steep learning curve, with each one having patterns that they can seemingly mix up at will. Taking one down is a great feeling, especially if it involves jumping!

So, a conclusion is required here, and this is a bit of a poser. The shooting mechanic, general combat and the look of Heidelberg 1693 are all pretty good, ensuring that it is somewhat enjoyable. However, the lack of a dodge move and the weird jumping makes things a lot harder than they should be. In this way, it’s hard to go much higher than a middle of the road score for Heidelberg 1693, as the good and bad are almost exactly balanced. I’ve enjoyed the fighting, but equally I’ve had to put the controller down gently and walk away when the jumping sections made me have steam coming out of my ears. 

If you like a challenge, then by all means give Heidelberg 1693 a try. Just don’t say you weren’t warned. 

Heidelberg 1693 is on the Xbox Store

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