Quickness is the essence of war. -Sun Tzu
“The following is a contributor post by the Mail Order Ninja Mage.”
My opponent stands across from me, his strange neon red body adorned with a beard, mohawk, and a bikini. Our rapiers are extended in front of us as we feel each other out, each of us waiting for the other to make a mistake. I fake a low stance, then lunge in a high, but they anticipate me and a ringing sword clash sounds out. Now that the initial lunge is past, the next moment is a blur of strikes and parries until finally my blade sinks home.
Suddenly, my way is clear to seek glory in feeding myself to the Nidhogg. I dash forward, leaping over obstacles and making my way to the next screen. My opponent is back, this time with a giant blade. They run forward and slash up from a low stance and, though I try to block, my rapier is too light and is launched from my hand. I dodge backwards as the blade sweeps down in front of me and leap over the combatant, opting to run instead of engaging in battle or attempting to retrieve my sword.
I see the sword flying end over end as my enemy throws it, and I go to roll, but a moment too late as it sinks into my back. We go back and forth between these two or three areas of battle, stopping each other from time to time until my enemy combatant slays me with a quick dagger throw. They are at the last area, and though I run I can’t catch them. I watch helpless as they leap off the cliff and are devoured by the great serpent Nidhogg.
Maybe next time, I state as I ready myself for the next match, the 30th of such that we’ve had in a row.
Welcome to Nidhogg 2.
The 8-bit Review
When I first set eyes upon the sequel to Nidhogg I was very shocked, as was most everyone else I would imagine. The original was a very minimalist game that looked incredibly retro, and this sequel looked like deformed clay versions of Homer Simpson intent on destroying each other.
It wasn’t until I finally got my hands on the game myself, and saw everything in motion that it started to click in place. Everything looks like a slightly off clay-made version, akin to something you might have seen on the Sega Saturn, with garishly bright colors and cartoon vibrancy infusing everything. The palette and style isn’t entirely unlike some of the gross out cartoons like Ren & Stimpy or Rocko’s Modern Life, and will either appeal to you because of your love of these things, or repulse you in equal measures.
Either way I found it suits the game perfectly, with wonderfully odd backgrounds in various stages, goofy animations that are perfectly fluid, and crazy avatars that die in showers of exaggerated meat and goop blood (or confetti if you turn the gore filter on).
Again, your mileage will vary based entirely on your opinion on the art style, but I think that the developers absolutely nailed the look in what was a big gamble that paid off.
The music tracks in the game all lean heavily towards heavy synth beats and electronic beats that mesh very well with the game in general, even though they aren’t my favorite type of music.
“Knapsack” was my favorite track out of the bunch, which makes sense as it was far more light feeling. However, to get a good feeling for what the rest of the music is like you can listen to it below.
The sound design itself is extremely well done, with gross-sounding splats, cries of anguish, and other noises from the characters fitting perfectly with the art style.
The original Nidhogg was one of those games that is exceptionally deep, while also basing its gameplay loop on its simplicity. Nidhogg 2 adds additional depth and options to that simplicity, but manages to also remain easily accessible.
Your main goal in Nidhogg 2 is to run either left or right, depending on your original orientation, and feed yourself to a grotesque flying worm. To do this you’ll need to face off against your opponent, who will be doing everything they can to also make themselves a snack for the worm at the opposite end of the arena.
Initially the player spawns with a rapier, and has three stances which are low, middle high. If your opponent matches those stances your jab is blocked, and you will continue to fight until you land just one blow, killing the other opponent. Once you’ve made a kill in your favor then the job becomes to run towards your end of the stage, and at that point it is the opponent’s job to stop you.
Each time you die you’ll spawn again with new weapons, added for the first time here in the sequel. One is a heavier sword, that has no middle guard stance, but that has a wide sweeping arc that can knock any lighter weapons from the other player’s hands if they block. In addition every weapon can be tossed at the other player, meaning that the heavier sword is larger and makes a bigger arc as it flies across the screen.
There is also a bow that works exactly how you might imagine, but if parried at the right time will send the arrow back at the archer. Then there is a dagger that has a very short reach, but is exceptionally fast and is like lightning when thrown.
What this all creates is a mad dash of rolling, jumping, fencing, throwing weapons, and strategically deciding how to approach each individual battle. It is a constant well of yells with near misses, cries of victory when you perfectly roll under a weapon, jeers at your defeat when you fail to parry a perfect sword strike, and everything else in between.
The beauty of the game is how rock solid everything is. Especially when you look at the controls which are tight and simple, while having enough depth to make every showdown a tense standoff. Platforming, rolling, throwing the sword: everything here has a heft to it that makes it extremely satisfying to pull off.
We will discuss this below in Multiplayer, but the best way to play Nidhogg 2 is obviously with other people. Facing an AI threat can be a good way to get your bearings, but it pales in comparison to the fun that fighting your friends will yield.
That makes all of this just a tad bit harder to recommend, as the single player is confined to simply fighting AI in a campaign across all the stages, and fails to ever really be more than an option to fight bots if you can’t find anyone else to play with.
Regardless, if you can find someone to game with then the frenetic pace, overall silliness of the game, and the extremely tight controls will yield you some of the best multiplayer gaming this side of Towerfall or Smash Bros.
As I discussed earlier, whenever you have more than one player gathered together is when Nidhogg 2 truly shines. Like the best multiplayer games there is a constant sense that you might win at any moment, and can come back from the most complete defeat to win the game.
The simplicity of the combat and controls mean that anyone is able to jump in to play, but like the best of games, that skill continues to develop as you progress through the game and develop deeper strategies to combat your enemy.
Because of the wackier nature of the game, stages, and combatants, you’ll often find yourself laughing out loud even if you are on the receiving end of a twirling blade. It feels incredibly rewarding to defeat somebody in battle, and even better when you stop them on the last screen and somehow managed to score yourself.
This game has launched itself to the top of my multiplayer go-tos, and I can’t see it being toppled until the newest Super Smash Bros. launches.
Not only is Nidhogg 2’s combat system wonderfully simplistic, but its dash to the finish hook is unlike anything else out there. When you combine the chess like strategy of the weapons with the 2D platforming you receive something wholly unique, especially when factoring in attempting to reach the other side before the other individual.
I’ve never played anything like Nidhogg 2 in a multiplayer space, especially not something so incredibly polished. That combined with its unique look–which could never be mistaken for another game at this point–and you have a game that stands alone within the industry.
Online Play: 7/10
This is probably one of the weakest parts of the game, and the only reason I can’t give an absolute must play to everyone that loves games. Simply put, the online infrastructure has stutters and latency that you just can’t have in this type of game. When a roll could mean success or failure based on a fraction of a second, any sort of lapse in the rock solid frame rate could mean the difference between success and failure.
That being said ,I played a lot of games online and never really ran into problems so severe that I couldn’t play the game, and I still managed to have a lot of fun. It simply wasn’t as solid an experience as playing offline with my friends and family, which I know for some people that really don’t have access to a lot of other gaming friends that can be a real problem.
I was really worried about how accessible the game would be by watching the trailers, especially considering my twelve-year-old would be the primary tester with me. Though the blood that comes from the characters looks more like Nickelodeon slime than it does blood, and when they die the chunks they explode into is cartooney in nature, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to expose him to it.
Luckily there was a feature in settings in which you can turn off the gore, removing all the blood and turning explosions into confetti instead of body parts. While there is still some goofy violence in the game, it made it so my younger son could get into the game without me wondering if I was being a horrible father.
Again, the tightness and simplicity of the controls and the options open to you cannot be understated, and they allow anyone at all to jump in and start competing right away. You can’t be much more user friendly than that.
My Personal Grade: 9/10
Nidhogg 2 was a surprise for me. As much as I liked the first game, I had a lot of hesitance watching the trailer of its sequel. That hesitance has evaporated completely, and after dozens upon dozens of matches I’m more in love with the game than I ever could have expected.
The new weapons and abilities are extremely well-balanced, and the fast and frantic dash to make it to the worm is as satisfying as it has ever been. Initially the art style really bothered me, but the more I experienced it the faster I grew to love it. It is also worth mentioning that if you’ve played Nidhogg 2 elsewhere the Xbox One version comes with two new maps exclusive to this edition, which means that this version is the definitive version of the game.
Though the internet can be choppy at times, and single player is just a glorified AI bout match, there is so much to love about this game that I suggest that anyone who has someone they can play with pick it up immediately.
We’d like to thank Messhof Games for furnishing us with a copy of their game for this critique!
Aggregated Score: 8.5
The Mail Order Ninja Mage loves video games across every console: an assassin of fanboy nonsense. He also really loves martial arts and pizza, though that is of no consequence here. To read more of his random word soup, or to view daily(ish) photo mode screenshots from his favorite games, visit him at Home Button.
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