Some would say it’s all about the thrill of the chase, but honestly, it’s more about the fear the chase brings with it. Once you’ve downed your opponent, the hunter becomes the hunted. With sweat dripping from your brow, you must outrun your adversary, bask in the glory of your adoring fans and jump into the mouth of a phallic-like serpent known as the Nidhogg. Yes. This, my friends, is the best fencing game you’ll play this year.
It’s a slightly peculiar choice of sport to emulate as it can’t be said that the blade-based martial art has any Wayne Rooney, Kobe Bryant or even Phil “The Power” Taylor to speak of. But in the same breath, none of that matters when your avatar is a pixelated yellow swordsman, on a trippy cloud backdrop.
Across four different 2D arenas, two combatants face-off, with the objective being to kill your foe and race to the finish line. A successful execution will see an arrow – akin to that seen in old beat ‘em ups like Streets of Rage and Double Dragon – appear on screen and indicate that you must rush through the area and reach your goal. However, your fellow fencer will respawn right in front of you, seconds after a death, ready to duel once again.
Matches can last up to thirty minutes, or can end just as quickly as they begin, depending on how formidable your opponent is. That is both where Nidhogg excels immensely and, sadly, where it also fails. There is no denying that Meshoff has developed an excellent multiplayer game, with an adequate singleplayer mode attached. Also (and it seems strange to say this in 2014) the best way to play with friends is when they’re sat next to you, gloating or crying in despair, depending on the situation.
With two controllers in action, Nidhogg becomes the best multiplayer game you’ve experienced in quite some time. Essentially, it’s a fighting game with one-hit kills. By driving your sabre through your buddy’s brain, neon-coloured blood will paint the floor and the trash-talking will begin. As well as that, it’s quickly learned that there’s more to Nidhogg than meets the eye. It’s not just about running up to your opponent, stabbing them in the heart and legging it to the finish line – a winner will need a strategy.
You can foil your rival’s plans by leg sweeping, divekicking, disarming – you can even fling your épée in their direction and hope for connection. On top of that, there are the obvious mind games that come with a title like this. It wasn’t long before my friend and I were engaged in stand-offs where I was blocking their route to the goal and their only option was to meet me, head on. The first-timer will no doubt come into Nidhogg and expect something rudimentary, but the system runs deep and they’ll get themselves killed pretty quickly. But, they’ll learn their lesson.
There is another reason why playing locally is better: simply because the online component isn’t reliable. At least at time of writing, getting into a match proved difficult and once I eventually joined one, the lag made it almost unplayable.
Also, the single-player portion lacks any of the bite seen in local multiplayer. You must defeat twelve swordsmen as quickly as possible within the four available areas. While the choice is limited, all of the arenas are varied enough that complaints are pretty minimal. The Clouds map does pose problems though, as the pigmentation makes it difficult to differentiate between player and environment. The AI is also nothing that will test the might of accomplished Nidhogg players. They certainly aren’t bumbling oafs, but the excitement of battling a human-controlled character cannot be matched and that leads to the lone sessions becoming tired very quickly.
On the surface, you could look at Nidhogg and dismiss its minimalistic, jaggy art, but you would really be doing it a disservice. The dynamic sound of electronic artist Daedelus lends itself perfectly to the altered mindset one assumes when peering at the screen. The retro look is definitely becoming an overplayed trope within the independent market, but Nidhogg’s absurdity makes this trip a delightful one.
VERDICT: As the years go by, opportunities to shout expletives into the face of someone you call your “friend” become less and less frequent. Nidhogg brings that joy back into your life. The rush of mouthing off, and the shame of then losing the match, hasn’t been replicated this well in quite some time. If you’re eager to hop online, you’ll probably be disappointed, and you shouldn’t expect big things from ruthlessly murdering computer-controlled characters. Look at that as practice for when your pal comes ‘round for another couple of matches. Oh, how you’ll laugh… and then probably cry as he darts past your pathetic, lifeless corpse.
VERY GOOD. An 8/10 is only awarded to a game we consider truly worthy of your hard-earned cash. This game is only held back by a smattering of minor or middling issues and comes highly recommended.
Review code provided by publisher.