Title: Nidhogg 2
Available On: PC, PS4
Where To Buy: Steam, PSN
‘Gameplay is king’. This powerful phrase to me is gaming scripture and denotes the original Nidhogg perfectly. Long standing titles such as the Mario and Zelda series have aged maturely over thirty years because aside from the graphical difference, they are still fun to play. Nidhogg put the mechanics first and found success because of this however they inadvertently put the developer in a tough dilemma about the future of the franchise. Typically sequels are bigger, better and more ambitious but could this apply to Nidhogg? Messhof Games felt the answer was yes and Nidhogg 2 preserves the beloved competitive fast paced combat from the first but also introduces some unwelcome additions too.
I feel slightly hypocritical beginning this review with a critique of the art style after my ‘gameplay is king’ statement however upon starting Nidhogg 2, the bold design choice cannot be ignored. Whereas aesthetically Nidhogg could be defined as minimalistic, there was still an aura of elegance to the simplistic graphics. Nidhogg 2 bypasses a couple of graphical generations and plants itself into the colorful 16-bit era yet simply put, it is not a pretty game. Nidhogg 2 can look unappealing and grotesque. These visual ingredients can blend triumphantly as it does with Bloodborne and the Dark Souls series, however, Nidhogg 2 does not share their success.
The character models have derived from pixelated stick figures into deformed brutes. In Nidhogg 2 limbs look disproportioned and eyeballs bulge from their sockets; the new 16-bit visuals only make characters look even more vulgar. The original Nidhogg both graphically and mechanically had a finely balanced design which brought with it a charming style, however, the sequel misses this symmetry and as such graphically, Nidhogg 2 feels like a misstep. Upon entering combat you can customise these deviants appearance and although hats and glasses add uniqueness, nothing averts the unpleasantness. Randomizing your appearance causes your character to spins and dances to the beat, but this is the only time they possess any trace of charisma.
Outside of character creation, the new art style is felt everywhere as it is such an assuming choice, you cannot escape it. The oddly charming flying worm who devours the victor at the end of each match now looks vulgar and menacing. Killing an opponent is a barbaric act as their rib cages erupt from their torso and the stage is drenched with blood and guts. The original had a graceful decorum to the battle not too dissimilar from the art of fencing yet the art direction in Nidhogg 2 alters the concept and bouts feel like gladiator matches instead of sparring ones.
The reason I am being bogged down by the art design is because it is the focus of the sequel. The combat mechanics stay very true to the original and this is ironically Nidhogg 2‘s best attribute. The action is as fun as ever and rightfully retains its crown as one of the best accessible competitive multiplayer games.
Every encounter begins the same as two competitors stare down each other with a weapon raised. The objective in Nidhogg 2 is to run to your opponent’s side of the screen. Stages will have multiple areas and you must traverse a number of these until you reach the finale and your comical demise. The stages themselves are where the new art style for Nidhogg 2 does work. Battles erupt in halls of lush banquets and enemies will fly one another atop a rainbow with each locale justifying the new color pallet on offer. The stages feel varied and as you enter a new screen, an assortment of backdrops make you feel you are traveling. Later stages may include deadfalls such as meat grinding machines and floating islands which do just enough to alter proceedings without affecting the core combat.
Before you can run to your goal, however, a single kill must be made essentially starting a ruthless game of tag. The momentum can quickly change as the player who performed the last kill gains the upper hand and in turn, can sprint their way to victory. Re-spawning is fast and conveniently places you between your rival and their destination inducing another deathly duel… unless your opponent, displaying their cowardice, attempts to run past you.
This simple back and forth concept was the core of the original and still makes Nidhogg 2 a lot of fun. There is no need for health bars or special abilities as this is raw brutal carnage. A simple prod with a sword can be enough to down an opponent and find you making progress towards your goal. A flying dropkick could as easily disarm your foe as much as it could skewer you on their raised sword. Killing and being killed is supposed to be fast and frequent but as you find yourself pushed back towards your danger zone, the pacing can slow down and combat does become more intricate.
Nidhogg 2 has a lighter combat system than seen in For Honor but there are similarities. When wielding a sword or dagger, you have the choice of three stances and each has a benefit over an opposite posture. Positioning a weapon low may expose your upper body but an upward swing could potentially disarm an opponent. Similarly holding the weapon high and aiming for ahead blow could allow the competitor to slide underneath your blade, sweeping away your legs in the process. The change in pacing makes the whole encounter feel exhilarating whether you are being overly aggressive in an opponent’s area or defensively guarding your home screen.
Nidhogg 2 introduces new weapons such as the aforementioned dagger and a bow. The dagger acts very much like the traditional sword but the shorter reach makes encounters more personal. The bow adds a whole new mechanic of firing shots across the stage and combining this with the three stances on offer may find you firing a barrage of arrows at different heights. Each spawn brings with it a random weapon and having to adapt to your counterparts load out brings more complexity. When the weapons are negated the rivals will punch, kick, stamp and ultimately tear apart one another in hand to hand combat.
The most nerve-racking aspect of Nidhogg 2 is when things do not go to plan. Remember that your opponent, having felled you once, could potentially jump over you and sprint to the finish? One way to counteract this would be to throw your weapon and watch with immense pleasure as it sinks into your opponent. Likewise, the exhilaration of jumping over a flying projectile feels great. You need to be instinctive in Nidhogg 2 as a well-placed swing of a sword could send a fired arrow heading back in your direction; a defenseless, unarmed foe could gather a weapon dropped during a previous kill. Although anyone can pick up a controller and enjoy Nidhogg 2 due to its accessibility; matches always feel fresh and unpredictable. Much like watching your favorite sport, the base rules apply yet there is an element of play which cannot be scripted and you see these moments continuously in Nidhogg 2.
Nidhogg 2 has a traditional arcade mode taking you to different stages against continually tougher enemies. Competitive leader boards for completion time may encourage this mode to be replayed however Nidhogg 2 is at its element in multiplayer. Online connectivity is an option but ideally, local play is where Nidhogg 2 shines. As the controls and mechanics are so easy to grasp, Nidhogg 2 makes for a great party game and is equally entertaining for spectators. Tournaments can be set up briskly with knockout tables tracking results and progression. Stipulations can define the weapons available or include time limits on each match. The stripped back menu system may feel tame but in reality, much like the simplicity of the game, it allows participants to begin playing swiftly without any unnecessary hassle.
VERDICT: Nidhogg 2 suffers from the high expectations of what a sequel should bring to a franchise. The development team felt that they had to provide something new for their follow-up and an audacious art design was their big gamble. Sadly, aside from the gorgeous stages, the risk did not pay off. Thankfully the team didn’t find themselves blinded by their vision and retained the heart of the original and as such, Nidhogg 2 is still great fun. New weapons and stages are sometimes enough to appease fans and my wish is that the future of the franchise focuses on these successes as opposed to the failures.
- Great Multiplayer Fun
- Easy To Pickup And Play
- Beautiful, Varied Stages
- Characters Look Grotesque
- Sequel Could Have Focused On Better Elements