Release Date: January 13th
Launch Price: $14.99 ($11.99 for first week on Steam)
Nidhogg is when fencing meets FGC-esque competitiveness, meets electronic music, meets pixelated art style. And boy, is it ever fun (when it works).
There’s not many details required to explain when it comes to the story. In single player, your goal is to kill a long line of brightly-colored opponents using your swordsmanship as a fencer. A high, mid and low jab are you main attacks with a sword, while punches and divekicks are your last resort without one. Throwing a sword can also be a huge risk/reward scenario, as it allows you to hit a fleeing opponent (or lose it to a parry). You can also trip an opponent to the ground and rip out their heart, which is terrifying even for a pixelated sprite.
There are four maps; Castle, Wilds, Mines, and Clouds. Each has a different layout, background, length and music. They all, however, start in a neutral center. As you defeat an opponent, your goal is to advance throughout the stage in your intended direction. Your opponent will respawn ahead of you to try to stop you, as when you are killed they will be trying to reach their end of the stage in the opposite direction. It is all about screen advantage; avoiding combat could be beneficial if it gets you to the end.
Finally, there is the Norse dragon Nidhogg itself. Not much is known the extent of what it can do within the game, other than eating the winner in their victory screen. All we know is that even in victory, there will always be someone above you to put you in your place. With only two buttons (jump, attack) and directional movement, it couldn’t be more simple to pick up and play.
Nidhogg is strictly gameplay-driven, something that is surprisingly a breath of fresh air when it comes to ultra-popular indie games these days. If that doesn’t work for you, the game falls apart. The three-pronged attack approach gives the fighting in this action game the feel of an advanced rock-paper-scissors match. Much like with traditional fighters, you’ll be kicking yourself when you make a dumb move that gets you killed, including an ill-timed jab or accidental sword throw.
What really brings the excitement to this title is the multitude of 2-player options. When you’re playing against your friends on the couch (Nidhogg is Big Picture supported), that’s when the real fun begins. Expletives will be flown about, blood will be pumping and the competitive drive kicks in. No longer are you gaming the AI, but learning the move tendencies of a real human. Success in Nidhogg is well earned and greatly satisfying.
Not only can you play in up to 8-player tournaments locally, but you can also go online to play against real competition at any time. Therein lies one of the early downfalls of Nidhogg; the netcode is pretty dreadful. The latency has to be really low due to player speed and precision, yet more than half the online matches at launch result in sporadic juts in movement. Online invites to local friends seems to be the best bet, although such a requirement isn’t ideal.
It is amazing just how well designed Nidhogg is, from top to bottom.
The art design is vibrant, down to its pores. I am reminded greatly of the action-adventure platformer, ‘Another World,’ due to its almost grand nature within a 2D world. Enigmatic backgrounds complement the exuberance of the characters, with blood spilling on the ground in the color of their sprite makeup. Small details, like small squirrels foraging for food or birds taking off in flight receive the same devotion as the billowing smoke of a coal mine or the crashing of waves at the bottom of a waterfall. Each of the four stages are unique to each other. Fighting in the billowing tall grass is a treat.
Daedelus matched the same enthusiasm when it came to creating the game’s music. Each electronic track written for Nidhogg masterfully blended with the stages, amping up the sense of urgency and excitement of combat. The sound design overall is quite remarkable, overall. It had a very Kung-Fu movie vibe, overemphasizing death throes, sword-clanging, heart-ripping and swishing of missed attacks.
Nidhogg is meant to be played against other real players. Even though there is a single player mode in which you race to beat the game and top the leaderboards, it is bare bones enough that you should see it more as a tutorial mode. At a $15 price tag, just how much you can get out of the mutliplayer experience is the concern. With the online stability being terrible out the gate, it can’t be relied on 100%. Teenagers will find it much easier to play with friends offline than adults with jobs and responsibilities could. If you don’t want to play the game with others, you might not want to pick up this game at all.
With that in mind, Nidhogg is a deeply enjoyable affair that combines the eclectic energies of 1980’s-era video gaming artistry with the fervor of a 2000’s-era fighting game. Its minimalism is enhanced only by its simplicity. Meant to be enjoyed with others, even if it can be bothersome with internet latency in online play. Nidhogg is what more indie games should try to be; pure fun.
+ Insanely fun and replayable combat style
+ Excellent art and sound design
+ Tournament and local multiplayer are MVP features
– Online netcode is iffy, at best
– Not worth it if you only want to play single player
(A Steam code was provided to GameSided for the purpose of this review.)