It was very, very hard to put down Nidhogg to write this review. What do you know about Nidhogg? The people reading this versed in Norse mythology may think Nidhogg is a dragon that gnaws on the roots of the Earth tree, Yggdrasill. Although that is relevant and true, Nidhogg in this context, is a 2D fencing game in which two people battle to reach their side of a level where they then get eaten by Nidhogg.
I would like to preface this by saying that Nidhogg is best played with friends. The single player is totally serviceable but this game truly shines in its multiplayer. I played through the single player in about a half hour, from not knowing how to play the game properly. By the time I had finished that half hour, I definitely had the basics down. The goal is to get to your side of the level by going through multiple screens. To get to the next screen, you must kill the opponent, and run while he respawns in front of you on the next screen. Once you have ‘advantage’ you can run to the end, provided you don’t get killed yourself, then you need to kill your opponent again in order to go your way again. It’s a really interesting reverse tug of war mechanic where picking your fights appropriately is incentivised.
Your main weapon is your sword. With the sword you can fence with the other player using up or down to change the height of your sword. The interesting thing about the sword is that you can just stand there and if the opponent touches the sword they will fall onto it, making the entire mechanic similar to zoning in a traditional fighting game. You can lunge at the opponent with the attack button and if their sword is at a different height, they will be killed. If you change heights while under or over a sword, you can disarm the other person, giving you an advantage to attack. You can also fight with your fists, although the disadvantage there is limited reach and having to get close quarters. Two punches, a leg sweep, or a dive kick will knock someone down, crouching and pressing the attack button again will perform a spine rip. Swords can be picked back up by pushing down and can also be thrown by holding up then attack. Thrown swords can be blocked with a raised sword or dodged by jumping or rolling.
As far as mobility goes you have a basic jump, a forward roll and a cartwheel. There is also limited wall running, jumping and hanging off ledges. This can be good to sneak past an opponent when you don’t have a sword. The wall jumping is a little wonky, but it all works. For ease of control, you’ll be wanting an Xbox controller or similar.
The online multiplayer is a little bit wonky at this point in time. It totally works, but it’s not perfect. Lag in a fast-paced game is annoying; hopefully more improvements are to come, but online multiplayer is there if you have a good connection. Offline multiplayer is certainly the better experience, if only to yell expletives at the person who just stabbed you. A tournament mode with three or more friends will be a very fun time. There are a variety of modifiers for versus as well, such as low gravity, fast or slow speed, and boomerang swords.
The graphics are a gorgeous mix of simple Atari lines and colours with fluid modern animation. It won’t be everyone’s idea of awesome graphics, but they are certainly striking. The animation reminds me of the early flash videos of the internet, where stick figures would brutally murder each other. There are four different stages each with their own quirks that change the strategy of play. For example, the wild level has tall grass you can hide in, while the mines have narrow corridors inwhich swords cannot be thrown and you cannot jump over opponents. The music is composed by Daedelus and is unique with each play through. It’s a catchy mix of electronic tunes that fits the action well.
It is available for PC on Steam for $14.99 with a 20% discount for launch, so $11.99 until January 20th. There is also a two-pack option where you can buy two copies for a reduced price. The only criticism I can even muster is that there may not be enough content to justify the $15 price tag for some people.
Nidhogg was reviewed by Stephen Snook on a PC