I admit I deal in hyperbole here and there, but I mean it when I say that Nidhogg 2 (opens in new tab) is one of the best-looking games of the year—the best in my mind. I was skeptical when I saw the first screenshots: the original's stick-figures had become bulbous monsters, an elegant reduction of fighting game characters traded for over-indulgent organic horror. But I couldn't have been more wrong.
Nidhogg 2's ugly, amoebic characters and comedy gore are paired with backgrounds that have been lavished with attention—caustic, uncannily beautiful looping scenes that work in perfect contrast with the stumbling, tripping balloon-people and bouncing guts. In the heat of a duel it's easy to miss the color effects and living details, so I've made a few gifs—disregard the compression—to highlight my favorite bits of animation and design by the game's artist, Toby Dixon (opens in new tab).
Check out that fire! There are so many swirly loops it manages to look like it's naturally forming as I advance and retreat. The design of the trees is fantastic as well: alien but recognizable frames for dramatic death scenes.
This scene reminds me of Neo Geo game Samurai Shodown (opens in new tab) (the whole game has a hi-res Neo Geo feel), and the color scheme here is my favorite of all of them. Alternating warm and cool colors—blue water, brown dirt, green grass, yellow straw, a burnt turquoise sky, and bright orange leaves—balance the composition perfectly. Also check out how the Pepto-Bismol-like gore slides down the ledge, creating pale reflections in the water.
This is a happy tree. Aside from the happy tree guy ruling, check out the glow from the water, and if you hadn't noticed yet, the way the arrow drips blood off the screen.
The god rays are the highlight of this scene—not overstated, nor the parody of an effect that bloom has become, but subtle indications of atmosphere that give the whole scene volume.
My gif selection wouldn't be complete without an appearance from the wurm itself. I love how its eyes squash as he idly chomps away. And check out the luminous smog—the effect is similar wiping oil paint away with solvent to reveal the underpainting.