(Disclaimer: Review Copy provided by Messhof.)
Nidhogg is a unique game where two pixelated swordsmen get to take part in an epic fight in order to achieve victory... which involves being eaten by the eponymous Nidhogg. It is technically a fighting game but it's unlike anything else out there. Nidhogg is a fast-paced game where each stab, jump and crouch can be the difference between victory and failure. Overall, the core gameplay is a lot of fun but the focus on local multiplayer combined with the relatively high price of $15 is going to put people off, which is a shame. Still, Nidhogg is definitely a game worth keeping your eye on.
Getting your head wrapped around Nidhogg's gameplay is tricky at first because it is so different to everything else out there. However, thanks to the simplistic nature of the game and the helpful tutorial, you will be stabbing and divekicking fools into pits in no time! The game primarily only uses two buttons: attack and jump. You run around just like any other 2D characters, but you can also roll, which is a great way to avoid incoming swords. Indeed, you can throw your sword at your enemy, which can be effective against those who would rather run than fight.
Running is an effective strategy in Nidhogg. There is a tug of war style system in play where, after a player gets a kill, they then have the advantage as they are told to progress further in the level. The other player needs to stop them though, and if they get a kill, they will then get the advantage and will have to run in the other direction. So while the killing and action is great here, the main goal is getting to your win zone. The tug of war concept is handled superbly and it can lead to exciting, back and forth style games.
What makes Nidhogg's gameplay fun is all of the neat little intricacies that do a good job of adding some much needed depth. But the game is still easy to get into. For example, there are three different stances, all of which have your sword in a different position. This can lead to moments where two players are furiously raising and lowering their weapon at each other, fencing as the cool kids call it, which can lead to a disarm and most likely, a gruesome kill. Being unarmed though isn't the end of the world, as you do run significantly faster compared to running with a sword. There are also divekicks in the game, similar to many 2D fighting games or the recent title Divekick, which don't kill your opponent but will knock them to the ground for a second, and if you are quick enough, you are able to rip off your enemy's head. All of these little features are insignificant on their lonesome but when you put all of the gameplay elements together, Nidhogg is an exciting and fresh game to play.
Nidhogg only has four levels to fight on but at least each level has its own unique look and feel. The castle level is the most straightforward of the bunch but the others add their own spices into the mix. For example, the level called "Wilds" has a wheat field which covers most of the fighters, making the fighting during that section even more chaotic. I like all of the levels in Nidhogg but it desperately needs more. Having played the game for a few hours, I am already tired of the levels included as of now and it would be nice to see more added in the future.
Multiplayer is certainly the reason why you should play Nidhogg, but there is a single-player mode to tackle. There isn't much to see here, it's just a series of computer controlled opponents that you beat in succession in order to appear on the game's leaderboard. Don't expect a story or anything like that here; it's the equivalent of a bot match. Fortunately, the single-player AI is surprisingly competent and will put up a good fight. Sometimes you might see them do something stupid but real players do stupid things too! While the single-player offered here is slight, the fact that it is here at all is good as it offers good practice before you try playing the game with real people.
But you should really try to play this game in multiplayer because the amount of satisfaction you get from outsmarting a real person compared to a quirky robot is substantial. Nidhogg allows you to play the game both locally and online with a matchmaking system. I have only managed to play the game online because, as is often the case with us gamers, I don't have anyone here to play the game with. Online play seems to work well though and I didn't have any trouble with lag, though I have read reports that lag can be a problem when you are not the host. Playing the game online is fun but I had a very hard time finding matches, with only one or two people online at once.
I usually don't bring up price in my reviews because generally, if a game is good enough, it's just worth getting regardless. However, Nidhogg is a slightly different case because it is so multiplayer focused and if the playerbase just isn't there, then why would you buy it? The game is $15/£11.99, which a fine price considering how fun the game is, but not when it's so difficult to find online matches. This can be offset somewhat if you manage to convince a friend to play with you, but I think if the game was cheaper we might see a bigger playerbase from the onset. But instead, most folks are going to wait for The Inevitable Steam Sale, which is understandable but it sucks at the same time because this is a neat game.
The graphics in Nidhogg go for an old-school, 2D graphical style that works perfectly well. The game runs smoothly and all of the animations looks great. Obviously, the graphics aren't going to blow you away but that's just not what Nidhogg is all about and when you get sucked into a nail-biting match, you won't even care that the game looks like some relic from the 1980s. The sound effects are standard yet effective and the game has a strange yet memorable soundtrack that fits well into each of the game's levels.
Nidhogg at its very core is a great game. It's fast yet tactical, reckless yet cerebral, violent yet stylish. However, this is a game where you need to play with your friends to get the most enjoyment out of it. The single-player is decent but not worth getting the game for alone, and the lack of online players is disappointing. However, I hope Nidhogg carves out its own dedicated following for years to come.
It deserves to.
FOUR OUT OF FIVE
(A great game that largely succeeds, but stumbles in some notable ways.)