Sometimes the simplest concepts make for the best games if they’re executed well enough. Take Nidhogg, for instance, an extremely low-fi swordfighting game that made for some fantastic multiplayer action if you could get some folks together to play with. It’s not the most innovative or graphically stunning game, but it really nailed the sense of tension that underlies the best fighting games. Apparently Nidhogg did well enough to merit a sequel, so now we’re checking out the slightly less low-fi Nidhogg II.
While ostensibly this is a swordfighting game, Nidhogg 2 is really more of a side-scrolling tug-of-war; both sides will respawn quickly upon being killed, so the main benefit of taking out your opponent is getting them out of the way so you can progress toward their side of the map for a bit. Only the last player to get a kill is able to make progress, so ideally you want to murder whoever might be standing in your way as quickly as possible and keep moving. At the end of either side of the map is a giant dragon that will nom nom whoever makes it there, which counts as a win for that player.
Given that one clean hit results in death and you’re constantly being encouraged to move forward, it’s no surprise that combat is lethal and intense. There are several weapons to choose from, but most behave in similar ways: you hold the weapon out in front of you in either a high, medium or low stance and will attack at that level upon pushing a button. If the enemy’s weapon is in the same position then you’ll probably get blocked, otherwise you’ll land a killing strike.
Striking a proper balance between offense and defense is key to staying alive, as are using some of the more underhanded moves like throwing your weapon or sweep-kicking the enemy. Even if you end up unarmed, you’re not out of the game yet, as a well-placed jump kick or sweep and still lead to a kill. Nidhogg II shakes the formula up a little by introducing several different varieties of weapon, including a two-handed sword, dagger and even a bow and arrow; each of these play differently enough that you can approach fighting in different ways, and you’ll need to learn how to use each of them well since your character will randomly have one equipped each time you spawn.
It’s a fun little game all in all, especially if you play online. The original Nidhogg was pretty widely acclaimed as being a great gameplay loop boiled down to its essence. That’s still the case here, though the art style might be a little more divisive than the original; it goes for a sort of 90s-era gross-core feel that may not appeal to everybody. I think it’s great, personally; the characters are colorful and display some hilarious personality, to say nothing of the goofy-looking dragons that serve as the goal of each match. I imagine the music is going to be less of a point for argument, since it’s pretty fantastic, especially the theme from the initial Castle level.
If the art style doesn’t put you off and you’ve got some likewise-minded friends to play with then you’re probably going to have a fantastic time with Nidhogg II. Having other humans is sort of a requirement for this one; while AI opponents are available they’re dumber than rocks and will pose no serious challenge whatsoever. Stick to the multiplayer and chances are this is going to be a worthwhile purchase. Also check out the soundtrack sometime. It’s fantastic!