Musketeers are a thoroughly underutilised class in video games. While their name obviously points to the primitive firearm that sets them apart from other combatants, in popular culture they are generally experts in the swashbuckling arts – equal parts Errol Flynn and D’Artagnan.
Heidelberg 1693, from Andrade Games, attempts to fill this gap in the market and makes interesting use of the skills and limitations of a powerful gun that takes a huge amount of time to reload. Top this off with a devilishly grotesque pixel artstyle and you have all the ingredients for a historical thrill ride.
The setting for Heidelberg 1693 takes loose inspiration from real world history. You are sent out on a mission by the Sun King of France, Louis XVI, who is at war with the Grand Alliance. You must seek out and kill his bastard son, now known as the Moon King. In order to do so, you need to navigate across a nightmarish version of Germany and fight past hundreds of foes. This story is told through static screens but has an interesting take on European history and the artstyle holds up well in the woodcut images.
I initially thought that Heidelberg was going to be a Metroidvania (with the clearest influence being the wonderful Blasphemous) but the closest comparison would actually be an old school run and gun like Contra. The biggest difference being, of course, is that you don’t have a fancy laser or machine gun – your musket instead comes with very limited shots and forces a unique style of play on you.
Or, at least it should. Somewhat true to reality, the musket is so deliberately awkward to use and the masses of enemies so numerous, that I found myself spending most of the game relying on my sword or manipulating the creatures to kill each other instead. Some levels were truly frustrating as they rely too much no RNG over deft and skilfully planned play. The exceptions to this were the challenging boss battles that required some careful aiming with the musket in order to overcome the obstacle they provide.