Nidhogg is a must-have title if you usually have a couple of friends over and a few of controllers hooked up to your PC.
If I describe Nidhogg as a couch competitive game with retro-style visuals and “easy to get into and hard to master” gameplay, I can see a lot of people rolling their eyes and leaving this site to never come back . After all, those are buzzwords that multiple developers have used to promote their games before. Don’t get me wrong, the description above applies to Nidhogg to a certain extent (although I must admit it’s also a reductive way of describing the indie game,) but there’s something else about this game, something unique and special that require more words to put a finger on it.
In Nidhogg, two sword-fighters participate in a duel to death. Every time you kill your enemy, you can move towards the opposite side of the screen and gain territory. But your enemy respawns and the objective is to kill the other fencer enough times, that you reach the end of the screen. Of course, your opponent can do the same thing to you and this tug-of-war creates some exciting and eminently satisfying matches. Here are the rules, you can run, jump, punch, duck and even throw or pick up your sword. Those are the basic moves, but soon you’ll realize that that’s just the beginning of the game, since you can also alternate between stances, momentarily disarm your opponent, fist fight or throw them on the ground.
To familiarize yourself with the basics, you can play the short tutorial that has all the information you need, but I’m sure most players will learn most of the advanced techniques through trial-and-error which translates into dying over and over. Luckily, most duels are fun, fast-paced and short, so even if you’re losing again and again, you won’t lose interest in the game. Quite the contrary, that’s when this game will probably make sense for you.
There are three modes: single-player, multiplayer and tournament. In the single-player campaign, you play against a series of AI-controlled opponents and while this is certainly not the best way to experience a game that was conceived with multiplayer in mind, it’s a great introduction to the rules. After playing the tutorial, diving into the single-player campaign can be a terrific way of polishing up your skills and the AI is more than challenging, though not flawless. The AI doesn’t always take the wisest decisions: it falls, gives advantages and takes too much time to do something. If you don’t have an internet connection or if you simply intend to get this game to play by yourself, think it over. The single-player campaign is anemic and lacking to say the least.
If you want to play with other people, you have two options: you can play locally against friends or use the matchmaking functionality to play online. Although the latter works well enough, there aren’t many players to play with, so playing against a friend might be your best bet. When I did find a random player using the matchmaking system, the game worked flawlessly, but that took a lot of time. Finally, tournament is a local mode where up to 8 participants can play and you can select the map and chance settings however you prefer.
We’ve seen dozens upon dozens of retro-style indie games over the past few years, but Nidhogg still manages to stand out above the rest. In the game, everything looks incredibly pixelated and it does a terrific way of lessening the violence. When you clumsily stab an opponent head on, a potpourri of blood splatters and leaves a colorful puddle on the floor, for instance. Luckily, Nidhogg is filled with details like that one: stepping on tall grass hides your position, but moving means that the grass will reveal where you are; when you reach the end of the level, there’s people cheering and a giant snake eats you before you fall to a precipice; when you step on clouds for too long, you can fall to your demise since the floor disappears and so on. As you probably guessed by now, the environments play an important role in the game beyond being pleasant to look at and fun.
Nidhogg is a blast when you have a couple of friends over and a couple of controllers hooked up to your PC. The online mode, on the other hand, works remarkably well when you can find someone to play with which unfortunately, doesn’t happen very often. If you usually have friends over and have a couple of extra controllers lying around, Nidhogg is a must-have title.