Released back when I was a carefree child who was still at university, the original Nidhogg was accessible and yet peculiar enough to warrant whipping it out when the gaming society I was at wanted to see something weird but with a lot of fight and spunk in it. It had a distinctive fighting system that cradled brutal instant deaths with a rapid-fire arcade-esque try-n-try-again mentality. So when I saw Nidhogg 2‘s new, uh, “look” I admit I cringed. While some of my original concerns do rear their heads with yellowed teeth grinning at me from outside my bedroom window on particularly stormy nights, Nidhogg 2 displaces its predecessor as a neat pick-up-n-play fightin’ game for those rare moments when I have company around.
Nidhogg 2 is a fighting game with a twist: Death is not a loss nor victory. You may strike your opponent down as you leap from platform to platform like an acrobat, but they’ll simply respawn. To win you must run to the end of your opponent’s territory where you can be devoured by the glorious Nidhogg worm beast. That said, only the person who has slain their opponent the most recent can trespass deeper into their adversary’s grounds in the hopes of being worthy of consumption.
Which, that’s all the rules really. Yep…
…However, it is finding ways to vacate the enemy’s body of blood where complexity creeps in through the window from before. Even in the base game, you have three stances of holding your weapon: Low, medium and high. Each stance has a different amount of reach (at least it seems so), with low allowing you to duck and high giving you the ability to just fling your weapon as a “hail mary”. You can also block by matching stance. Then there’s flicking the weapon away via stance changing. There is also the typical concept of jumping about trying to dive kick your foe. If it sounds complex, honestly, it is easily graspable for those used to try-n-error control learning and has a rather rapid learning curve.
This is all old news though, things brought back from the original Nidhogg. There is one major addition to the combat in Nidhogg 2 though: Weapons. You still have the fists and rapier from the original. In addition to this, Nidhogg 2 brings three new tools to put your opposition down with. Two of which are a broadsword that has only two poses but can knock weapons away with a swing and a knife that has a fast attack/recover and stance-change speed. The weapon that does affect the combat system the most is the bow, requiring charge up and with arrows that can be deflected back but does allow for some complex ranged combat.
I admit am inclined to grumble at how they don’t quite change the field as much as I had hoped, challenging people to invent new tactics or to pick particular weapons for the job. I am also a little disappointed there isn’t quite the range I was optimistic about (e.g. a spear that rewards keeping foes at mid-range). That said, my only actual criticism of the inclusion of extra weapons is the game’s only option to linearly cycle through the weapon list after each respawn rather than randomizing it. Despite the predictability of what you’ll get when you respawn, the new weapons still lend a new freshness to the competitive glee of mashing your foe’s head in.
Then we get to the levels, as we leap from four to ten. Along with the aesthetic (which I promise I’ll get back to!), there is such a wonderful variation in the environments. Not only in appearance, you also have different styles of soundtrack. That said, while the original Nidhogg challenged you depending on the level type, it seems that Nidhogg 2‘s levels are less distinctive mechanically. The “disappearing floor” of the cloud level is gone. The conveyor belt appears in at least two levels, although fortunately, one uses small ones with traps at the end and the other uses a long slow conveyor belt. The lack of a distinct gimmick per level (e.g. poison clouds triggered upon being stepped on, sluggish pools or traps) instead of a gimmick appearing in multiple ones does render most as simply pretty backgrounds, but the variety of said pretty backgrounds is appreciated.
I guess one reasoning could be that where the lack of stage-specific modifiers lack, you can pick it back up by customizing your fights. On the bright-side, with the option to alter the fights in 10 different ways, pick a time limit and what weapons (as well as in what order) will be issued out to combatants upon respawning, there is a healthy dose of options. That said, most (if not all) modifiers are reissues from the original Nidhogg.
In addition, there is definite room for post-release support adding extra delicious modifiers like randomizing weapon distribution, making the floor slippery or make players have armor that can be broken via multiple strikes to one area (challenging them to hit one area multiple times). Personally, I might only flip on Sudden Death modifier if I want a bit of fun deathmatch action, but besides that, the base Nidhogg 2 experience is plenty wonderful for me.
That said, for some the Nidhogg 2 experience could be a little too simple. Beyond an arcade mode which is simply running through all 10 stages with weapons slowly being added, there is the 1-on-1 versus mode, a tournament mode (1-on-1 with a cup system) and an online mode. I admit I wasn’t able to try the online mode (because Nidhogg 2 hadn’t been released at the time of writing) nor versus (who needs friends when you have games to take you inadequacy out on?). I’m personally fine with it, as it does what it is meant to do, but I think some could find it a little bare-bones.
Then we arrive at the aesthetic style. Oh boy is it a style. It is a style that is distinct, gross and bizarre in a good way. You can even design how your bloke or blokette looks, kitting them out with various clothes and hairdos. The peculiarity of how everything looks is, definitely, eye-catching and bold in appearance. That said, sometimes everything feels too bold and some of the subtleties can become indistinct. This is partially due to everything being bold and strange, so your characters can end up looking less interesting than the background art and so you get distracted by said art. There was also a few times where the animation style turned combat into a flailing of arms that was just as likely to be a romantic dance, abstract performance art piece, and bloody murder. Overall, while originally I wasn’t convinced by the art, I definitely could see it growing on me, at least because it is incredibly unique.
The final score for Nidhogg 2 is a 7/10. While a little bare-bones to be a single-player title, it’s charm, accessibility and features offer itself up as a party piece. It is something to fling on the PC for two drunk nutters to have at it, or sober nutters if you’re of that disposition. I’m hoping Nidhogg 2 gets some post-release love, as with a little more polish and content it could even stride into a more competitive scene.
As it is, Nidhogg 2 is definitely the type of lark I plan to put on when I just need a simple multiplayer. “Simple” being the keyword, because when I’m 4 pints on the other side of being rat-arsed then I want an ugly little fighter that doesn’t require my alcohol-numbed brain to think. Which damn Nidhogg 2 offers the ugly little scrap I want in that mood.
A PC Review Copy of Nidhogg 2 was provided by Messhof for the purpose of this review.