Nidhogg Review: A Duelist’s Dream
But Nidhogg isn’t just about racking up kills. It’s about pushing into your opponent’s territory and eventually reaching the proverbial finish line, whereupon you get ceremoniously eaten by the titular Nidhogg. Each match begins with the two fencers fighting it out in a neutral territory. The player who gets the first kill gets the opportunity to move forward to the next room, where the enemy will once again be waiting.
The player defending their territory must then kill the invading player and attempt to make it back to the neutral territory so they can make their own push towards their finish line. That may sound confusing, but it really isn’t. Just think of it as American football: Whenever you get a kill, you get control of the ball; whenever you get killed it’s a turnover; every 10 yards takes you to a new room; and once you reach the end zone, instead of a touchdown, you get eaten by a giant pink dragon thing.
The game’s single player mode puts you through the standard gauntlet of increasingly difficult enemies. For the most part, the AI is great. It’s challenging without ever feeling truly unfair, it will counter obvious attacks with parries, punish you if all you try to do is jump over the bad guys and run, and sometimes will even taunt you by repeatedly crouch-jumping while waiting for you to respawn. But there are also some sore spots, where the AI will repeatedly fall for the same environmental hazard, making it easy to exploit your enemy on certain levels.
Nidhogg’s biggest surprise is the inclusion of online multiplayer, which is something you don’t often see in indie games that are targeted specifically for a local multiplayer crowd. I can go on complaining about the lack of voice chat, about how matchmaking doesn’t seem to take into account player skill, and how it often takes a while for a match to be found, but ultimately with a game like this, with as limited of a budget as Messhof no doubt has, some online play is better than none.
And the times when I do get into a lag free match, which isn’t all that rare, it’s an absolute blast. I’ve had epic matches with random strangers that have lasted upwards of 10 or 15 minutes, with back and forth momentum shifts and incredible saves.
Local multiplayer is the way Nidhogg was meant to be played, though, and it shows in the extra features available for that mode. There are all kinds of variants that you can add to spice things up, including low gravity, turbo mode, no divekicks, no throws, only throws, and my favorite, boomerang swords — which makes it so your sword comes back to you after you throw them, but will stab you in the face if you don’t avoid it on the return. It’s a bit of a shame that there’s no option to do private online matches with these variants. Hopefully it’s something that could be potentially patched in later.
There are only four levels in Nidhogg, but each has four unique rooms. Those rooms in turn each introduce interesting environmental hazards that substantially change the way combat must be approached. Even something as simple as a pit can lead to a tense standoff where one player waits at the edge, daring the other to jump and potentially risk having a sword thrown in their face.
Each level is well-designed, and all have some cool environmental tricks that can significantly affect gameplay, but the paltry selection does leave much to be desired. After less than an hour of playtime, you’ll have almost certainly played through each level multiple times and seen everything the game has to offer.
Some levels that present a little more danger would have provided some much-needed variety, as well: for example, maybe some levels with swinging platforms, different types of traps, and other stuff along those lines. Just something to keep players on their toes while also having to worry about their opponent.
All in all, Nidhogg is a fantastic little indie gem, and the addition of online matchmaking allows me to recommend it without it being conditional on whether you have friends to play it with. It’s got simple, but deep combat and a well-designed, if a bit paltry, selection of levels, and it’s just a blast to play. Say hello to 2014’s first great game.
- Simple but deep sword fighting combat
- Refreshingly unique twist on a 2-D fighting game that involves pushing into enemy territory, rather than just straight-up killing your opponent.
- Great visual style
- Fun local multiplayer variants
- Well-designed levels
- Online play!
- Only four levels
- Online play lacks the variants found in local multiplayer, and is in general very rudimentary
- Single-player mode can get old fast
- AI is easy to exploit
Final Score: 85/100
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