Fencing is One Deadly Sport
If you’re one of the few people who have never played the original Nidhogg, don’t feel bad. Even though I’ve watched plenty of streams of the arcade-like jousting pixel fest, I too have never actually played the game. I’m a fan of retro-inspired games, but the Atari 2600-like graphics of the original Nidhogg were off-putting to me. So, if you’re like me and never played the original, consider this review a fresh take on the series, and gameplay in general. Let’s talk Nidhogg II.
Upon booting up the game for the first time, many gamers will immediately notice how colorful Nidhogg II is. The Overworld map is very reminiscent of the intro screen of SNES’s Yoshi’s Island. The chunky pixels of the characters and backgrounds are striking, especially considering the neon-like accents they contain. These bright colors mixed with the 16-bit graphics that have replaced the Atari visuals result in a very acid trip look. Fans of the original may be off-put by these new visuals, but as a big fan of the 16-bit era, I personally prefer them. But as I’m sure you know, pretty pixels don’t mean jack if the gameplay isn’t good.
Niddhog II offers players three game modes – Arcade, Local, and Online. Being a big fan of single player games, I jumped right into the Arcade mode. Before starting, I was given the option to customize my character (who seems to be a zombie) to my liking. There isn’t much to customize, but what is here resulted in plenty of laughable variations. Color of skin, hairstyle, and clothing (the Marty McFly vest being my favorite) are all changeable, and a “mix” option is available for those who can’t decide. And yes, female skins are available too. Once I had my character looking as ridiculous as possible, I jumped right into a game.
Upon being dropped into the first world, I was promptly met by my first enemy. For those familiar with Nidhogg, they’ll know exactly what to do in this situation. This is a game that has one objective – stab opponent after opponent until you win. The overall goal is to make it as far right as you can, but if your opponent kills you, they gain ground and the screen shifts left. This constant struggle of ground becomes a game of tug-of-war that can get pretty intense, especially when the kills start to rack up. I had one particular run where I kept trading kills that resulted in a pulse-pounding five minute session! The game really shines in these situations. But not every session resulted in eyebrow-wiping gameplay.
The tug-of-war analogy works in Nidhogg II, but only if the AI decides to play along. I had runs where the AI didn’t seem to want to even move, and other runs where the AI felt as if it was being controlled by an actual human. Considering there isn’t an option to change the difficulty, players are stuck with guessing which AI they’re going to be running into during their session. Nidhogg II’s single player mode mode would greatly benefit from a higher difficulty.
The arcade mode’s difficulty also depends on what weapon the player spawns with. Swords are the primary weapon, but daggers and bows & arrows are other weapons that will pop up throughout the playthrough. The swords seem to be the easiest weapon to wield, with the dagger being too short and the bow taking too long to draw back. How you approach an enemy with a weapon will depend on the enemy’s stance, and which weapon they’re holding. There are three attack options. Go high, go low, or go for the midsection. If the enemy is hanging back, there is also the option to throw the weapon. If unarmed, knocking the enemy down and stomping them to death is also a gruesome alternative. The gameplay may look simple, but when you factor in all the weapons and ways to use them, there is a lot of depth to Nidhogg II.
Other than winning, a reason to keep pushing forward to gain ground is to see what kind of visuals the development team has conjured up. The pixel art on display here is delightful, and had me stopping at times to take it all in. That is, until I had a sword stabbing me right in the eye. Each world has its own look, and seems to tell a story, even though there is no story to tell. I didn’t mind this, though, because the stages were so fast-paced and frantic that I really didn’t have time to even think about a story. Every stage flows together nicely, even though they all differ drastically. Thankfully, they’re not all linear either. Multi-level stages offer a few different gameplay scenarios, requiring players to think before they advance. Of course there are totally off-the-wall stages, too, which will have you thinking you’re on the aforementioned acid trip. No other game offers fencing zombies trying to kill one another while running on a rainbow, I can guarantee you that. To accompany these outstanding environments is an outlandish soundtrack that fits in exceptionally well. If you find yourself tapping your feet to the amazing soundtrack be sure to purchase it on Steam. The game and soundtrack can be purchased together at a nice discount.
With an average playtime of 24 minutes, Nidhogg II’s arcade mode is extremely short. There is a decent online mode that is just as fun and frantic as the single player arcade mode, but finding an opponent took a big chunk of time. When I did finally find an opponent, our game was pretty laggy, which really is a shame considering the pin-point precision that is needed to win a round. Local multiplayer was definitely the way to go. This is a perfect party game and will have friends becoming enemies quicker than you can say En Garde. The multiplayer mode can be molded to the player’s liking considering all the options that are available to tinker with. If you’re looking for an engrossing single player campaign, look elsewhere. But if you want a game to play next to a few buds on the couch, Nidhogg 2 will entertain you and your friends to no end.
I had a tremendous amount of fun with Nidhogg II, but I wish there was more of it. A single-player mode that takes less than a half hour to finish is unfortunate. I would have liked to see more worlds and weapons tossed in. The online multiplayer, although fun, was hampered by the laggy netcode. Playing next to a buddy on the couch is an amazing experience though, and Nidhogg II is sure to be a main feature at plenty of future game nights. If you were a fan of the first game and don’t mind the graphical change, I’d say jump on this. Who knew fencing could be so fun?
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), Playstation 4; Publisher: Messhof Games ; Developer: Messhof Games; Players: 1-2 ; Released: August 15th, 2017 ; ESRB: T for Teen ; MSRP: $14.99