The whole hogg.
- Available: Now
- Format: PS4, PC
- Developer: Messhof LLC
- Publisher: Messhof LLC
There’s something to be said about simplicity in a game; a clear, single-minded dedication to perfecting an experience. Nidhogg 2 is a game with a single purpose: getting two players to fight it out with simple controls. At its core, the game is as basic as they come. But after playing for just a few minutes, you soon begin to appreciate the elegance of its simplicity, and the nuances of its deceptively basic design.
A round in Nidhogg 2, as in its predecessor, has two players squaring off against each other on one of several maps. Maps are divided into distinct ‘screens’, with the objective being to get past the other player and off their side of the screen, then do the same on the next screen, and so on, until you reach the last screen, where you win before being unceremoniously eaten by the titular Nidhogg, a norse serpent. Perhaps this is a desirable thing in the Nidhogg 2 world; it’s not clear, but then, it doesn’t really matter. The point is, you won.
Getting past the other player is easier said than done, of course. Both characters start out armed with a randomly selected weapon – broadswords, punch daggers, bows, and rapiers all feature – and all it takes is a single hit to kill. You’ll respawn with a new random weapon a few seconds later, normally a short distance in front of your opponent, but by then they’ve stolen the momentum. With each weapons having varying range and speeds, building up a flow of movement and attack can be the deciding factor between life and death, and all it takes is a mistimed counter or clumsy jump and your character is impaled by a rapier. Sometimes you’ll square off against each other for long minutes, a careful thrust, parry, counterthrust and dodge swinging back to forth until one player fumbles, and sometimes you’ll conduct a ridiculous, Benny Hill style chase through the level in pursuit of your opponent.
The swift back-and-forth of combat makes for a tense duel, and its not uncommon for the fight to swing wildly in either direction in a see-saw of combat. It’s also frequently hilarious, thanks to the over-the-top gory death animations, persistant blood, occasional inanity when a good run is scuppered by a player falling down a hole, and the sheer speed of the gameplay.
There’s not that much more to the game than these one-on-one bouts; there are 8-player tournaments and an Arcade mode where you can fight against AI, but the structure of each fight remains the same. Honestly, thats enough for Nidhogg 2; the purity of the experience and the dynamic nature of the battles means you can play for hours and never find the gameplay getting stale or staid. Local multiplayer is definitely the way to go, though there’s fun to be had in the game’s online modes as well. That said, there’s nothing to unlock, no progress to be made; you can customise your character, but thats about it.
So lets talk about the elephant in the room, shall we? Because whilst the first Nidhogg had a delightfully 8-bit aesthetic, Nidhogg 2 has a dramatically different artstyle. Its a garish, rather grotesque world of lurid colours and bulbous shapes; initially it might look somewhat repulsive, but in motion there’s a surreal beauty about the game’s look, thanks in part to wonderfully smooth animation and some gorgeous lighting effects that play well into the quasi-16-bit pixel art style. The moody soundtrack only bolsters the surrealism, and the whole effect is quite powerful.
Nidhogg 2’s seductively simple gameplay belies its finely honed, nuanced depth. There’s a masterful flow at work here which results in a game that’s easy to play but offers plenty more to those willing to put in the effort and practise. It’s as tense and dramatic as any traditional one-on-one fighting game, if not more so, and its thrilling action, combined with its unique aesthetics, make for a game unlike any other.