Review Followups: Nidhogg 2

I’ve (rightfully) been accused of being hypercompetitive, and that side of me took hold shortly after I posted my review of Nidhogg 2; I played through the game’s single-player arcade mode over and over again, repeatedly trying to learn the ins and outs of each stage in order to improve on my time, and I kept doing better and better as a result. It’s difficult to translate muscle memory into words, though, and the game honestly hasn’t changed a huge amount since its launch despite the way I play through it changing significantly since then. I’ve waited longer than usual to follow up with it because of my unique attachment to the game, holding off until a patch added the ability to save a character preset. Now that it has, I’m going to go over the things that have been added and explain some strategies for the stages.

Saving a preset really helps

In its original form, you always started with a generic character and had to manually add the bits of clothing and facial hair that make each character distinct every time you started arcade mode or a multiplayer match. This became incredibly repetitive, so the ability to select a default look for your character is much appreciated.

The only thing you have to select now is your character’s color, and you can freely change the preset. Of course, you only get one preset, but that’s not much of a problem for me because I settled on my character on day-1. You’d better believe I’m still rocking the cutoff jean shorts, open jacket, and mustache. It’s still fabulous.

The only downside is that entering the menu to change your default outfit causes your hair selection to automatically revert to the standard baldness. It’s not actually a problem since entering the menu means that you intend to change things anyway, but it’s nevertheless a bit strange to have only one part revert back to the default.

Having a saved preset really helps because of how quickly I restart arcade mode after making early mistakes. It used to be that each quit required slowly piecing my guy back together, and eventually I stopped bothering and played through the game with a default character. Now that you can set your go-to character as the default, it allows you to quickly restart over and over again while still playing as your guy.

A new stage was also added after launch

One of the earlier additions before character presets were included was a new level, which can be seen in both the multiplayer video embedded below and the header image. It’s a PAX-themed level that combines pieces from stages 1 and 7 (Castle and Clouds, I think they’re called), complete with a Nidhogg booth, and it also sports one of the songs from the soundtrack that was conspicuously absent from the base game at launch. It’s too bad that this stage is multiplayer-only, because I think it might actually be my favorite one, and that’s saying a lot.

Let’s talk about the multiplayer a bit

When I first covered the game, I didn’t really talk about the multiplayer much. Pre-release, I found it nearly impossible to find someone to play online with since the only other people playing were people from other gaming sites. After launch, I discovered that my internet had an uncanny ability to slow down matches to a crawl, inconveniencing other players and turning fights into an awkward slow-motion affair. Don’t get me wrong—it was fun taking on real people because they were always more challenging and dynamic than the enemies in arcade mode, especially when my internet was playing ball and things were working smoothly, but the combination of spotty internet and arcade mode’s leaderboard (multiplayer only got a leaderboard recently) caused me to eventually focus all of my attention on arcade mode.

I wanted to dive into the multiplayer when I came back to the game to write about it again, but that proved to be more challenging than expected because of how hard it is to find random players to play against. In the video above, it took me 13 minutes to find someone. If you check the Steam forums for the game, you’ll see a lot of doom and gloom and “game’s dead” proclamations because of this, and it’s hard to know if that’s the case or not; obviously there aren’t bazillions of people playing at any given time, and yet it’s such a well made game that it feels like it could suddenly snowball into something much bigger (kind of like how Flappy Bird suddenly became a huge thing well after its release, only in this case because of quality rather than frustration). The recent update added new outfit options that have to be unlocked by playing multiplayer, and that seems to be as solid a first step as any.

Regardless of whether or not the game sees a boom in popularity, however, it’s still possible to find players on the game’s Discord server. There are a small number of people who post there fairly regularly, so that’s always a viable option.

The brilliance of the mechanics

Coming back to the game after playing through a bunch of other games felt like relearning the game again, though previous experience and muscle memory made it a much faster process than the first time around. This really made me appreciate the game’s mechanics and how instinctive decisions informed by previous experience can lead to much better results because of how complex the situations quickly become despite the fairly simple mechanics. I’ll talk more about that in a bit, but first, a comparison to highlight that rapid improvement: when I came back to the game, I was getting through arcade mode in around 10 and a half minutes:

After starting to recognize the little quirks each level’s enemy has (which I’ll cover further down), I was getting through it in a bit over 8 minutes:

And after becoming comfortable with the locations of all of the platforms and the timing of enemy spawns, I got back-to-back runs under 7 and a half minutes:

The reason such improvement is possible is because a seemingly harmless situation can set you back a surprising amount if you approach it badly, while a good decision can allow you to glide through and save a comical amount of time. Which isn’t to say that it’s possible or reasonable to expect to always make the right decision, but the more often you instinctively throw your weapon at an enemy’s face to hit them the second they spawn or dive-kick/roll-kick an enemy’s weapon out of their hand and continue ahead without wasting time killing them (which would actually cause them to spawn faster), the better your time is bound to be. It’s all about learning how things work and then picking up which moves best suit which situations.

A guide on how to approach stages

I’m not going to pretend to be the end-all on how to approach stages, but I’ve picked up several tricks that others might be able to make use of to do even better. First, some general advice: dive-kicking is faster than running normally (which means it’s best to dive-kick your way forward when you’re familiar enough with the stage to not leap into a pit), and it’s fastest when you don’t have a weapon, so don’t be afraid to ditch your weapon in situations where you don’t need it. The second general rule is that enemies will sometimes have the high ground, and it’s possible to slowly climb up and immediately roll-kick to disarm them. You can actually see that at 1:53 in the “comedy of errors” video embedded above. Finally, there’s a spot at the top of an enemy’s head that they almost always leave unprotected, so jumping and throwing your weapon as you come down can almost guarantee that you get them if timed right. This is most handy during the final stretch of the swamp stage.

Stage 1

Throwing or dive-kicking and then throwing your weapon will win the initial faceoff and give you the arrow. It’s incredibly rare that this doesn’t work. Dive-kicking ahead immediately after that, the enemy should respawn on the ledge. Not close enough to pose a threat when you jump up, but not far enough back to make jumping over him impossible. He doesn’t spin around to get you very often, but you can dive-kick his head to disarm him if you want to be absolutely certain. The second screen has the enemy start off below you, and it’s pretty safe to jump over him. He’ll often throw his weapon, though, so be prepared to roll (because rolling maintains your momentum and is a safe way to avoid most thrown weapons). The final screen can be a bit tricky because the enemy blends into the background fire, but roll-kicking or dive-kicking him is pretty consistent, and he’ll sometimes chase after you, ensuring that you have a straight shot to the end. It’s awesome when they chase you like that.

Stage 2

Dive-kicking and then throwing your sword works pretty well to start off stage 2, though it won’t work as consistently as in the first stage. You should be able to dive-kick his weapon away and then stomp his head in if needed, though. Whatever the case, he’ll most likely appear on the pier (unless you’re making amazing time), so it’s usually safest to run under it. The second screen is slightly trickier because of elevation changes; you don’t want him to spawn with the higher ground because it can be nearly impossible to avoid dying in that situation. Instead, disarming him and then hurrying across the screen should ensure that he spawns when you’re both on the same level. If you manage to dive-kick him onto the platform above, you might even delay him long enough that he respawns behind you and doesn’t pose a threat. The third screen is my favorite part of this level—if you run forward, jump at the end of the platform, and dive-kick at the highest point, you’ll successfully disarm him almost all of the time. He should follow you a short ways across the bridge, and from there you’ll have the high ground to simply jump over him (but be careful, because he’ll sometimes throw his weapon in a last-ditch attempt to get you).

Stage 3

This is the stage of dive-kicking. First, however, you throw your weapon. 9 times out of 10, she’ll fall victim to that right off the bat. No dive-kicking first. Just throw it as soon as possible. She’ll respawn at the far-right of the stage if you hurry, and it should be possible to simply jump over her. Dive-kicking isn’t always a great idea here since it can knock you into the pit. It’s my go-to move for the rest of the stage, however, because the computer simply can’t time its slow broadsword attack right when you dive-kick. It’s fairly easy to disarm anyone with a broadsword in this game by dive-kicking them, so the second and third parts of the stage consist solely of dive-kicking for speed and then dive-kicking to disarm. There are higher and lower platforms on the third screen, but she shouldn’t respawn close enough to the edge to block you from simply jumping up and continuing your dive-kicking reign of terror.

Stage 4

The fourth stage is where weapons start to alternate, so both you and the enemy (who I’ll again be calling a “she” because of the buns) will switch between a rapier and broadsword every time you respawn. I like to start the stage by dive-kicking and throwing the weapon again, which works fairly well, though a backup strategy of running forward and roll-kicking her can sometimes be necessary. Or dive-kicking, if you’ve become comfortable disarming enemies with rapiers (which is one of the more difficult weapons to time kicks on—especially when held high). Just be sure to dive-kick whenever they have a broadsword and you should be golden. The second screen has conveyor belts, and the first one is moving in the opposite direction. The second one is moving in a favorable direction, but if you disarmed the enemy when she first spawned on that screen, she’s incredibly likely to respawn on it and make running across it dangerous, so it’s best to dive-kick across both of them. The third screen is a straight shot to the end, and I like to alternate between roll-kicking and dive-kicking depending on whether the enemy has the rapier or broadsword. If they’re holding the rapier low, however, it’s usually best to stick with the dive-kicks.

Stage 5

This is one of the stages I’ve most improved on, and it’s all because of a few tricks. I usually throw the dagger at the very start of the stage without kicking first (though running up and stabbing also often works), and once you have the arrow, things get interesting. There’s a structure you have to go through, and this thing used to be the bane of my existence because of how often I’d die in it. Now I consistently get past it to the second screen by jumping and climbing it, which confuses the enemy. It’ll almost always get stuck behind you as you jump to the platform, eventually throwing its dagger where it could never reach you. The second screen is a bit trickier, but the enemy will spawn on top of the building and you should be able to hurry into it and lose him pretty consistently. The only problem with going fast here is that he’ll often respawn right in the nidhogg’s mouth that leads to the third screen, and the foreground element will effectively render him invisible. It might be worth jumping as you cross into the mouth to help avoid that. The third screen can be tricky because the enemy spawns on a platform, but jumping and throwing your dagger at his head or feet (I aimed it wrong in the picture above, but you can see where you should aim) will get him out of your way. If you miss, climbing up the platform and immediately roll-kicking is the safest way to disarm him. After that, it’s typically safest to jump over him whenever he spawns, though he’ll often throw his dagger when you do.

Stage 6

The first screen of stage 6 isn’t one that I have a solid strategy for. I usually run forward and attack with the dagger, hoping that it kills her (?), and from there the small amount of room you have complicates things. The best case scenario is that you enter the second screen with a rapier or dagger, though unarmed is also a solid bet. The second screen is a claustrophobic tunnel area, and the rapier makes getting through this much easier. If I have the dagger here, I’ll often throw it as soon as possible in the off chance that it gets through whichever weapon she’s spawned with (there are several weapons that cycle, and I always lose track). Whatever the case, getting through the tunnels while unarmed involves lots and lots of roll-kicking. The third screen is much easier, as it’s a more open space that allows for dive-kicking. And if you still have the rapier, it never hurts to open up by throwing it and aiming for the enemy’s face. That way you gain some room to breathe and have a better chance of not having to repeat the tunnel section should you happen to die.

Stage 7

This is another stage where the first screen is the one that I have trouble with. The weapon order here is bow-rapier, and having both you and your enemy start off with bows can be tricky. I like to start off by shooting low, then jumping close and trying to shoot over and over again if that doesn’t work. Whatever the case, the guy will then spawn below you with a rapier, but he has an uncanny ability to get me when I try dive-kicking him. The second screen is much more straightforward, though the enemy starts off with the high ground. It’s worth holding on to your weapon until the second screen so that you can jump and throw it. If it’s the bow, it should disarm him. If it’s the rapier, it should kill (or at least distract) him. The third screen is yet another straight shot to the end, and dive-kicking his face in is a pretty safe strategy. Just be sure to dive-kick to him so that you can reach him faster, because allowing him to draw a new arrow complicates things and can be a risk. Overwhelm him with speed.

Stage 8

This stage is where words like “consistent” can’t be used anymore, because pretty much anything could happen in them; I’ve made it all the way to the final stage in under 6 and a half minutes, only to be foiled again and again until my potential 6-something-minute clear was ruined. Anyway, you and your opponent both start with bows, so I always shoot low. The icebergs on the first screen sink as the two of you stand on them, so the angle of shots and throws can become incredibly tricky. It’s best to try and rush through this as quickly as possible. The second screen used to be a hassle, but I’ve found that roll-kicking everything except for bows (and sometimes bows when he’s on the other side of a door) really helps. The third screen has a bunch of platforms, but dive-kicking is usually effective. Sometimes you can even jump over him, though it can be risky. This is another final screen where he can be overwhelmed by speed, occasionally causing him to jump into pits.

Stage 9

Stage 9 can be blisteringly fast, but the first screen is tricky. You start off with rapiers, but I’ve never consistently beaten him by throwing mine. That hasn’t stopped me from trying, of course, but once you kill him, you still have to deal with him spawning on higher ground with a dagger. Jumping to the closest edge and briefly stuttering can allow you to jump over him, but this part of the stage is always incredibly risky. Better strategies surely exist. Anyway, the second and third screen are similar, as both have lava that moves in a favorable direction. I like to start the second screen by throwing whatever weapon I have at his face (and if I’m unarmed, I stick with a dive-kick). The favorable lava movement makes this one of the rare times where running normally is faster than dive-kicking, though you need to be aware of where he’ll spawn. If a bone platform is ahead and he’s going to spawn soon, he’ll usually spawn on the bottom and it can be worth jumping up and trying to jump over him. The exception to this is the beginning of the third screen, where he’ll start at the top of the bone platform. You can simply run under him here and he’ll never get you. Thrown swords will be blocked by the entrance to the bone platforms, too, though arrows will make it through (so go out of your way to disarm him if he has a bow).

Stage 10

The final stage is kind of tricky because the computer knows to counter dive-kicks by jumping and throwing its weapon when you try. Not always, but just enough to make dive-kicking slightly more hazardous than usual. This makes the first and second screens tricky because they have lots of raised and lowered platforms that ensure that you have to attack her in some way to continue, but her skills have definitely improved. Roll-kicking is still a star, though, and you can often bait her into chasing after you. Basically, this stage tends to come down to luck more than anything for me. The third screen, however, is one where dive-kicking (and simply jumping over enemies without kicking them) is weirdly consistent. I don’t know why, but it works.

Needless to say, I like Nidhogg 2 a lot

If it hasn’t already become apparent, this game really stuck with me. I think that the speedrunning community could do great things with it because of how complex the timing can be, but whether it sees a sudden spike in popularity or not, I maintain that this is an incredibly enjoyable game. Even as a strictly single-player game or one where local multiplayer is the star of the show rather than the online component.

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