Nidhogg II: Get Eaten, Win Game

…with a deft flick of your wrist the tip of your rapier neatly disarms your opponent. They stand. Stunned for a second before you run then through, their body hanging momentarily from your sword, dripping purple. Then they crumple to the ground and you run. That was the last hurdle. All glory is yours… you are consumed by the Nidhogg in triumph… 

In a moment of impulsiveness over the festive break, I picked up Nidhogg II for the Switch. I own the original for PC and it is the sort of game that can be quickly wheeled out at a gathering for some fast multiplayer action if called upon. Given that the Switch is now our portable gaming unit of choice, picking up the sequel on that platform (with it’s handily built-in multiple controllers) seemed like a great way to both try it out and convince my friends to drop in for a round or two at some opportune moment. The concept and gameplay of the two titles are very similar, so for the uninitiated it works like this:

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Two players face off in a duel with each round starting on a fixed screen. Once one player has defeated the other the victor has the “advantage” and can then move forward through the level. After a few seconds the opponent respawns in front of the player. The player with the advantage wants to continue moving forward so must defeat the opponent again or manage to bypass them altogether. If the opponent is victorious then they gain the advantage and can move back through the level. The round continues in this way with the advantage switching between players and each player trying to push forward in their own direction – it’s a kind of tug-o-war battle. Levels are broken up in to screens which each contain their own environmental hazards or features and when one player reaches their goal they are rewarded by being consumed by the all powerful Nidhogg – a great, powerful… unsettling… flying worm… all hail the Nidhogg.

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In reality there are only two key areas of difference between the incarnations of the game. Where the original took an Atari 2600 approach to graphics the sequel’s graphics are now a markedly gruesome cartoon affair full of gory splats and dips that are set forth with each player’s grizzly defeat. The sequel also boasts a wider selection of weapons consisting of the original’s rapier, a dagger, broadsword, and bow.

… of course this is all just technical balhooey; the real joy of Nidhogg is the combat that occurs in often split second encounters, each player trying to out manoeuvre the other and gamble on their opponent’s next move. The original rapier provides the blueprint that all the other weapons play variations from; it can be held in three different guard positions (high, mid, low) and a tap of a button thrusts out an attack. Attacks can be blocked by matching the attack height with the defending guard and moving guard position up in to the opponent’s sword disarms them. So at a very basic level this tends to result in a rapid fencing style exchange until someone lands a hit… but if that’s too much hassle then how about just throwing your sword at your opponent? of course if they deflect that then you’re unarmed… but you could always run in after and try to capitalise on the confusion in unarmed fisticuffs… or how about an aerial drivekick to knock them in the ground (assuming you don’t just impale yourself on their sword)… or slide in. Then there’s the dagger that has a much shorter reach, but blistering pace when thrown, or the broadsword that instantly disarms if it makes contact with an opponent’s weapon, but only has two guard positions… or the bow that provides ranged attack, but who’s arrows can be deflected back … or… or you could just accidentally throw your bow at your opponent and facepalm because that was stupid...

The point is that for a game with only two buttons, jump & attack, it provides a startling amount of combat options that make for some great rapid exchanges.

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These bite-sized gloops of combat are each satisfying morsels of gameplay only ever promising a mini-defeat or micro-victory before the next respawn and a reset of fortunes. In short, it’s not a victory until the player feels the soft slimy.. and presumably rancid… inside of the Nidhogg’s mouth, nor is the match over until you fail to defend at the limit of that final screen. The tide-turn of a fightback is what keeps the overall game so interesting and matches can often stretch on and on as fortunes sweep one way and the other. Nothing feels quite as satisfying of sweeping through incarnation after incarnation of your enemy; maybe you just keep picking up that same dagger and launching it again and again… and yet that blitz can come to an abrupt end the moment they deflect the dagger and run you through only to go on their own counter-rampage.

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It’s fast satisfying action that manages to be both the right levels of intricate and accessible tied together with over-the-top visuals, a variety or stages, surreal soundtrack, wacky character customisation, and even a modest amount of game modifiers to keep everything interesting. Best enjoyed with friends it’s not going to be a popular choice for anyone who doesn’t enjoy twitchy gameplay or direct competition… but for everyone else it’s a neat and memorable party game.

…May you digest slowly within the Nidhogg…

6 thoughts on “Nidhogg II: Get Eaten, Win Game

  1. Glad this is good. I like Nidhogg, but I have to say I think I actually prefer the minimalist visuals of the original game over this one — I can see the amount of detail on screen here getting quite distracting. Still, I haven’t seen it in motion; perhaps I’ll have to give it a go. The original was a popular choice for local multiplayer on the rare occasions I do actually get to see people in person! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

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