Nidhogg 2 Review
The first Nidhogg is a game that I didn’t get around to playing until I had already beaten Nidhogg 2, which means that I got to judge it entirely on its own merits in addition to later being able to compare the two. I was surprised by how much I liked Nidhogg 2 despite it being the polar opposite of what I typically look for in a game—this is primarily a party game designed for multiplayer first and foremost, though the single-player has been fleshed out a bit from the first entry to make for a more robust experience. Still, games are my preferred method of avoiding people, and my view of games like this is generally that they exist as bait for the kind of Youtubers whose video thumbnails consist of them making a ridiculous face, so it’s saying something that I found myself holding my controller in a white knuckle grip and getting mad at little pixel art cartoon guys.
Run to the right and kill anything that stops you
To give an idea of how out of my element I am with this game, it has no story or saving mechanism. Its single-player arcade mode has to be finished in one go (which only takes 10-25 minutes), and consists of a bunch of stages chained together one after the other. It’s a lot like the single-player of the first game, only each opponent has their own unique stage rather than a small handful being repeated. The gameplay between 1 and 2 is almost identical, too, with each match beginning with you and your opponent dueling, and the survivor being given the opportunity to run in their direction and try to make it to their goal. Killing is only temporary, however, and you and your opponent respawn with a new weapon ready to stop the other from continuing any further whenever bested. If they succeed at killing you, it’s their turn to try to make it to their goal. Basically, it’s the NFL (mixed with Bushido Blade’s weapon lethality), only both teams have one player and the ball you need to intercept is the opponent’s spleen.
The controls are similarly simple and easy to wrap your head around, with there being a button for jumping and a button for attacking (in addition to a controller’s analog stick or WASD to actually move your character around, obviously). On an Xbox 360 controller, attack is X and jump is A. On the keyboard, attack defaults to F and jump defaults to G. That’s a bit cramped considering you’re using WASD to move, though, so I’d recommend rebinding them to something more comfortable.
You can do quite a bit using those few inputs. If you’re running and press down, you can roll. If you attack while rolling, you can perform a sweeping attack without losing momentum. If you jump and attack, you do a jump kick that can disarm your opponent. If you press up and attack, you throw your weapon across the screen, while pressing up and down on their own adjusts your weapon’s height so that you can hit your opponent where their sword isn’t protecting them (it’s kind of like a more fleshed out version of what Zelda 2 did, only good). Pressing X in most other situations attacks, and the game has 4 different weapon types that all behave differently and carry their own unique pros and cons—except for the broadsword, which is godlike against absolutely everything—in addition to characters being able to attack barehanded if they throw their weapon away. Pressing down picks up ground weapons, which means that you can roll and pick up a new weapon without losing momentum.
So there’s a lot of complexity here despite how fast things happen
That’s just the attacking bit of combat, too, with there being little rules like how if both you and your opponent die, you duel again to determine whose turn it is, with the screen scroll locking until one of you has bested the other. There’s even more possible complexity when you get into how to get the most distance before your enemy respawns. For example, it might be tempting to finish off an enemy after disarming them, but jumping over them and allowing them to instead chase after you a short while (which the AI sometimes falls prey to) before falling behind and respawning can get you that little bit of extra distance. Sometimes it’s better to not even waste time disarming them, instead taking care to jump over their weapon (or block it) when they inevitably throw it at you. There’s also a lot of defensive strategy, with going low on an enemy being especially dangerous since they can kill you by stomping your face. Jump kicks are dangerous—but not impossible to pull off—when enemies are armed with a rapier, especially when they’re holding it up high where you’d normally aim your kick. Timing your jumps well becomes incredibly important to doing well, then, and with a little practice you can best most of the computer-controlled opponents and make your friends crazy by doing things like jump-kicking and sword-bumping them into pits.
The differences between Nidhogg and Nidhogg 2
Many of the differences between the first game and its sequel are minor (such as the art style, which I’ll talk about later on), but there are others that make a big difference. The most notable change would probably be that the second game is marginally slower than the first. Character animations also have more frames in the second game, and these two things combine to make the gameplay in Nidhogg 2 feel noticeably more deliberate; whereas the first Nidhogg felt like a lot of standing still punctuated by sudden bursts forward or back (including the camera quickly swinging to the side when a character respawns), you’re much less likely to be caught off guard in the sequel, and that means that deaths rarely feel like the whims of a capricious game god. Instead, each death is immediately recognizable as the direct result of player error.
You and your opponent also have a brief moment of invulnerability when you respawn, so the times where an opponent respawns right in front of you and impales you before you can react are much less frequent here. That can still happen, most notably at the end of one section in a swamp where a giant mouth is the door to the next area (it has foreground elements that block your view of your opponent, who often respawns inside), but it’s far less likely here than in Nidhogg 1.
Another difference is the stages, which are designed to be a bit more interesting than those in the first game. You’re still pseudo-platforming through several screens toward your goal, but gone are things like the first game’s cloud stage where platforms could disappear under you. Stages also have less of a focus on narrow tunnels, though that’s still an element that briefly shows up during one or two. Other levels make things more interesting with moving platforms, ice that moves down as characters stand on it (which often impacts the angle of your next attack), or a short pier that gives you and your opponent two parallel platforms. The stages are all different from each other, too, which each possessing its own unique visual flair.
And as mentioned previously, there are three new weapons in addition to the first game’s rapier. Now you can use a rapier, a bow, a broadsword, or a dagger, and the way the game gives them to you is kind of strange. Early arcade mode levels give you a single weapon that you get back every time you die, but the later ones cycle through their own list of them. One stage might start you off with a bow, then give you a broadsword and a rapier (and then cycle back to the bow) upon each death, while another might give you a dagger, then a rapier, and then a broadsword. To be perfectly honest, those are hypotheticals because I can’t remember the specific cycle of any one stage, and I legitimately thought that the weapons were handed out randomly until I saw that you could customize the cycle during multiplayer. Having each stage’s cycle shown before the fight or some kind of pre-respawn indication of what you’ll be using next would go a long way toward making the game feel fairer, because all weapons control differently and you sometimes only have a split-second after respawning to react.
Graphics, music, and bugs
Normally I have a separate section for bugs, but I honestly didn’t find all that many, and most of the ones I encountered were minor (and the kind I’m hesitant to bring up since they seem like easy fixes before the game officially launches) and didn’t affect the gameplay. When I was testing the keyboard controls—which take some getting used to and require navigating menus without the mouse, but could lend themselves well to high-level play because of their precision—I found that holding a direction before a fight started sometimes caused my character to hover across the screen without switching out of their pre-fight huddled stance. The only other thing of note would be me getting stuck on a door (which also happened when using keyboard controls, strangely enough), and I can’t be too mad about it since it was ultimately a minor inconvenience.
Then there are the graphics. This is bound to be a sticking point for many as evidenced by the massive number of dislikes on the reveal teaser, and it’s true that the more simplistic style of the first game has been replaced with a new art style. A sometimes grotesque art style that looks like what would happen if a Sega 32X went on a bad acid trip and exploded. For those who can keep an open mind, though, I really do think that the graphics will eventually win most people over. They have a ton of personality, your character can be custom-assembled from a number of parts to look totally unique, and the backgrounds in particular are much more pleasant (and much less distracting) than those in the first game. The music, too, is improved from the first entry, and the soundtrack reinforces the trippy visuals in a big way while being less cacophonous than the first game’s soundtrack. Which isn’t to say that the first had bad music, but the sequel’s soundtrack is definitely much more pleasant over long periods of time.
*A review key for Nidhogg 2 was provided for the purpose of this review