Hey guys, I’d like to introduce you all to Brian, a new writer for MMGaming! Check out his first review for Nidhogg below. You can find more of his stuff at SomeBrianDude Reviews.
Nidhogg is a game of inches. A false move will end with being skewered on a rapier, and a mistimed jump will send you tumbling down a (presumably) bottomless pit. The margin for error is tiny, but that’s where the joy in this title lives. There are little more satisfying feelings in all of gaming than beating an enemy who just pushed you to edge of defeat, and tasting your reward for victory – being eaten by a giant worm.
Nidhogg is a 2D fencing game, where your goal is to defeat your opponent by pushing them far enough back along their side of the arena that you meet the titular Nidhogg, who promptly devours you. Duels are a short affair, 2-second bursts of energy where one combatant will surely meet their short-lived doom, only to respawn moments later and try to halt their opponents progress yet again. It’s simple, yet well-crafted. Even brushing a sword means defeat, and the responsive controls mean the only person you can blame for this outcome is you.
The tools at your disposal to defeat your foe are vast. Aside from the aforementioned duelling, your arsenal includes sword throwing, wall-jumping, divekicking, leg-sweeping, and even fistfighting. While disarming your opponent shifts the odds dramatically in your favour, an unarmed foe is still a threat; especially due to the fact an unarmed foe is a quicker foe.
Single player in Nidhogg is solid, but it’s little more than training for the game’s multiplayer mode. It can be a somewhat frustrating experience at times – due in large part to the often inconsistent enemy AI. Each time the enemy respawns, it will behave differently. It usually flip-flops between extremely defensive and gung-ho, and can be exploited fairly easily. If the newest incarnation of an enemy was giving me a particularly hard time, it wasn’t difficult to coax them into failing into one the game’s pitfalls, or hurdle them and race the victory. The more aggressive enemies are prone to inviting you to defeat them. They are too quick to discard their sword, and will often pursue relentlessly when simply standing still and forcing a respawn in front of the player is the only way to prevent defeat. Despite this, it has the ability to surprise. When the enemy AI falls between these extremes, the single player really comes into it’s own, providing a decent challenge and punishing inattentiveness, it just happens far too rarely.
Multiplayer is where this game really shines. Bragging rights in Nidhogg never last long, nor does any defeat feel cheap. The frantic pace that characterises the best single player moments now permeates each encounter, and the effect is exhilarating. The twitch-based nature of the gameplay makes it difficult for one player to dominate another, and makes for an interesting tug-of-war for supremacy. It makes for an interesting tactical battle, with players making making game-changing decisions in the seconds between encounters. Holding onto your sword will make combat even, but discarding it allows faster movement. Will you hurdle your opponent and run to victory, or are you going to grind it out? Decisions like these turns the tide of a game, and Nidhogg demands you make them quickly, and frequently.
Speaking of multiplayer, local is really your only option on this front, at the moment. Online matchmaking is utterly broken, often failing to find other players online, and failing to match you with the few players it does occasionally discover. I understand that this game was made by one man, but to include a feature that simply fails to function is inexcusable. It’s a serious blight on what is mostly an otherwise really excellent game.
There’s not really a lot to Nidhogg, content wise. There are only 4 arenas of battle, and while each has their own distinct flavour (fighting among the shifting clouds is very different to the constrictive corridors of the mines, for example), I couldn’t help but feel like the game would benefit hugely from a few extra levels. This is a fairly minor complaint, since I did get a lot of enjoyment from what there is, though adding a little more to the rotation would go a long way to stopping the game from feeling a little repetitive in extended play sessions.
I’ve got a feeling that the retro aesthetics on show here will fall a little flat for anyone who missed the 8-bit era. They seem to have been made to appeal directly to nostalgia, and I can’t say it doesn’t work. Nidhogg would have looked right at home on the NES or Commodore 64, with it’s blocky backdrops and pixilated sprites. My favourite thing about this, though, is that the game’s developer, Marcus “Messhof” Essen, understands that it takes more than the aesthetic to evoke that time period. The old-school graphics serve to accentuate the gameplay, which is more than a little reminiscent of the ‘hard-but-fair’ design ethos that era is defined by.
Electronic musician Daelelus provides the soundtrack, and oh what a soundtrack. Each level has it’s own unique track, and they fit perfectly. So seamless is the audio, I find it very difficult to separate the audio from the levels. I can’t imagine battling in the airy expanse clouds without Daedelus’ soundtrack providing the backdrop. The sound effects are among the best I’ve come across in a game for a long time. The clattering of blades when duelling is fantastic, but it’s the weight effects add to actions like hand-to-hand combat and divekicking that I really admired. There’s a visceral feeling to unarmed combat, where the dance that is duelling gives way to breathless, frantic button-mashing, and the SFX are probably the biggest part in achieving this limitless satisfaction. I’m not sure you can really ‘play’ this game without the soundtrack, so essential it is to the experience.
Playing Nidhogg is genuinely refreshing. What it gets right; it knocks out of the park. The gameplay is fluid and precise, the multiplayer fun and exhilarating, and it looks and sounds beautiful. Unfortunately, the fact these things are done so well serves to highlight how big the missteps are. Online modes are a joke at present, and the single player feels like something of an afterthought. If they were up to the same standard as the local multiplayer, you would be looking at an instant classic.
It’s a real shame to see a game come so close to real excellence only to fall short, but that doesn’t stop Nidhogg from being a really enjoyable experience.