Need to know
What is it A fast-paced one-on-one fencing game with bows and dive kicks.
Reviewed on Intel Core i5-4440 CPU @ 3.1GHz, 8GB
Expect To Pay $15/£11
Multiplayer 8 local, 2 online
Link Official site
Nidhogg 2 is horrible. Which isn’t to say that the graceful austerity of the first game has been stamped into mush by this sequel, but that its new art style is quite disgusting. The response to its unveiling suggests the new look isn’t for everyone, but while some of the original’s slapstick simplicity has been lost, it’s memorably grotesque.
If you spliced misshapen clay men with Peter Jackson’s Bad Taste, you’d get something close to Toby Dixon’s squishy, messy, delightfully grisly art. One stage has a room with two meat grinders and pink, fleshy smears on the walls—another sees you passing through both ends of what looks like an annelid relative of the Nidhogg, before the eponymous worm (now more fearsomely ugly than ever) arrives to gobble you up once you’ve reached your goal. The very best multiplayer games are those that prompt the most spontaneous exclamations during play—involuntary cheers, yelps, laughs, expletives—and that’s still true of Nidhogg 2. But now you can add ‘eww!’ to the list.
Otherwise, not an awful lot has changed, certainly little to compromise the core that made us all fall so hard for the first game. Nidhogg was always the perfect example of ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’, working small miracles in squeezing depth and nuance from a two-button (one to jump, one to attack) control scheme. You could throw your sword—and, indeed, use your own to deflect one heading your way. You could jump and dive kick, or slide into your opponent. Tapping up or down let you change your stance and your sword’s position, allowing you to jab your rival in the face or, well, somewhere a little lower—or even to disarm them.
That’s all still here. Once your opponent is down, you’ll still race off, following the large arrow pointing you towards your destination. They’ll still respawn after a few seconds of sprinting headlong into their territory, and you’ll still have to defeat them again and again to win, though you’ve got a little further to travel before you do this time. It still feels like a weird, beautiful hybrid of fencing and tug-of-war.
If Nidhogg 2 was to have a subtitle, it should be Nidhogger—it’s basically Nidhogg, only there’s more of it. There’s more variety in the weapons, for starters: alongside a standard rapier, there’s a quick, stabby and highly throwable dagger, a heavier but rangier broadsword variant, and a slow-firing bow, which is a great option when there’s a bit of distance between you and your opponent, but rather less so when they’re right in your face. Arrows can be returned to sender with a well-timed swipe, though you can return the favour in kind, which can lead to the odd silly arrow-tennis interlude.
The environments, too, are different, and not simply because they’re much richer and more detailed than the spartan settings of the first. Pyroclastic flow and conveyer belts change your momentum, forcing you to readjust your tactics on the fly, there’s high ground and low ground, tunnels that see you fighting in silhouette, and rooms within rooms where doors become a factor. Bursting through to give your opponent a poke in the eye is great fun; even better is seeing an arrow thunk harmlessly into the wood as it shuts behind you and you peg it as fast as your bug-eyed fighter’s legs will carry them.
Even if you didn’t take to the new aesthetic at first, you might well warm to it as you play. The extra detail sometimes makes the action a little less crisply readable than the original—and the colour you choose for your avatar can be a factor on some stages—but it lends a cartoonish character to the battles that makes them more amusing to watch. Stomping on a grounded opponent until they’re nothing more than a puddle of brightly-coloured goop is just the right level of gross to be funny, and the expressiveness of the animation sells it as a desperate fight to the death between two idiots. If Messhof got on the phone to Matt Groening, they could quite easily reskin this as an Itchy and Scratchy-themed fighter that would surely print money.
It’s such a brilliant local multiplayer game that it almost doesn’t matter that its single-player component is a bit rubbish, and that its online still suffers from intermittent lag. In the case of the former, it’s just a straight run through each of the 10 stages against an AI opponent that seems to oscillate between bewildering stupidity and bullshit-unfair clairvoyance. The latter’s an improvement on the first game, but still slightly annoying for those who aren’t fortunate enough to have a friend or family member regularly available for a scrap.
But if you do—god, what a game. Given the original is still readily available and hasn’t got any less wonderful over the last three years, you could argue that Nidhogg 2 is an unnecessary sequel. Then again, if you loved Nidhogg, it’s a borderline mandatory purchase.