Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PS4
Let me tell you a story. Long ago, in the ancient era of…2014, there existed an indie game called Nidhogg which made an unexpected splash on the fighting game circuit. It was essentially pixelated murder football, a contest where two players attempted to run to opposite ends of a complex stage, earning the right to do so only after they successfully killed each other.
It had fantastic balance, incredible pacing, responsive controls, and a truly incredible soundtrack to boot. It had a knack for recreating moments from famous action movies, such as one player getting disarmed only to jump at the wall, kick off it, kick the opponent in the face to knock them down, land on the ground rolling only to pick up their sword again and thrust it into their opponent’s gullet for the kill the second the opponent stands up. Its polish and sense of brutality earned it critical acclaim, 9/10s across the internet, despite its lackluster single-player mode.
Fast forward to the futuristic world of 2017 and Nidhogg 2 is upon us, a continuation of the murder football tradition in all of its glory.
Big changes for a new Nidhogg
The first thing any fan of the original Nidhogg will notice is the simplistic pixelated gore has disappeared, replaced by an entirely new and grotesque graphics style based on ragdoll animation.
This new visual style is the definition of a double-edged sword. The stages and backgrounds are made of some of the most beautiful and well-crafted sprite art I have ever seen. I cannot stress what a graphical upgrade the environments in this game have received.
But the characters look like knockoff Homer Simpson dolls. They flail their limbs as they run through stages and swing their weapons clumsily. The fluid pixel art of Nidhogg, filled with detailed frames of animation mimicking two fencers fighting for glory, has given way to a cartoonier look which just doesn’t fit the game’s brutal nature. Fisticuffs have given way to ludicrous roundhouse kicks, and the visceral sound of you snapping your opponent’s neck has been replaced with stomping on them until they explode into exaggerated Mortal Kombat bits.
Despite the better-looking stages and some other options, such as character customization and color selection, the new graphical style is a net negative for the game. It doesn’t look bad, not by a long shot. As a standalone graphical presentation, it’s incredibly refined and detailed. It just looks cartoony, and the expectation from Nidhogg wasn’t goofiness, but brutality. It’s bound to turn some people off, especially fans of the first game.
Another flaw of these graphics is the feeling they give the game. While it’s not entirely certain that characters in Nidhogg 2 move slower than they did in the original Nidhogg, they feel like they do, and that’s largely because of the way they are animated. Characters in Nidhogg looked as if they were running for dear life toward their goal, while Nidhogg 2 characters seem to be moving at a brisk jog at best. Nidhogg characters also seemed to jump higher and generally be more mobile, because they were smaller in relation to the stages around them. The larger size of Nidhogg 2's characters makes them less mobile overall, and generally makes it feel like they are less capable of performing the high flying antics that made Nidhogg so popular.
Swords, daggers, and bows
Nidhogg 2 spices up its combat through the introduction of new weapons. Aside from the rapier, which operates exactly as it did in the original Nidhogg, players can also spawn in with a broadsword, dagger, or bow and arrow.
On one hand, this weapon variety adds a level of depth to the game. The broadsword can disarm other players but is slow and can only block high and low, leaving itself vulnerable to mid-strikes. The dagger is incredibly quick and is probably the best thrown weapon in the game. The bow gives you infinite projectiles, but is horrible in a close-range fight. It’s easy to see that this creates a variety of different weapon interactions through a match.
The issue is that you can’t choose what weapon you spawn with. Instead you always spawn with the next weapon in a pre-agreed order that you set before a match starts. This causes you to end up in situations that are hands-down unwinnable. For example, if it’s the last screen and you are desperately trying to keep your opponent from the goal, but you spawn in front of them with the bow and arrow, there is simply no way you are winning that exchange.
Its exchanges like these that make up Nidhogg 2’s second big weakness. Nidhogg felt very technical. Since the only weapon that either player could use was the rapier, fencing matches would be these tense standoffs with each player trying to find an opening to score a fatal blow. Although the weapon variety certainly gives Nidhogg 2 more depth, it makes each of its exchanges shorter. Any faceoff between a broadsword and any other weapon will either end with one player being disarmed by the broadsword or the broadsword wielder getting killed before they can land a strike. Any bow matchup will end with a lucky shot or a defenseless death. Daggers are more often than not thrown as soon as you get them, leading to either a ranged kill or a struggling defenseless retreat.
The same back and forth fencing matches that Nidhogg was known for just don’t seem to happen unless both players have a rapier, and that is very rare. It also doesn’t help that dive kicks have been incredibly nerfed and unarmed attacks have been incredibly buffed. Heck, you can disarm your opponent simply by kicking their weapon out of their hand. In general, Nidhogg 2 just feels more random and frantic, and less calculated and skill-based.
Fighting game or party game?
Nidhogg felt like a fighting game, but Nidhogg 2 feels like a party game, and those two genres appeal to completely different types of gamers. Is Nidhogg 2 fun? Yes, and it's entirely worth its fifteen dollar price tag. But you aren’t going to see the same following from the original Nidhogg playing this new game. Sure you can turn off all weapons and cheats and match options to create an experience similar to Nidhogg, and there is some value in that, if only because the new stages are so amazing, However, it still feels like you are ignoring most of the game’s content just to have a good time, and there’s nothing you can do to turn off the new graphics.
The rest of the game is not much to talk about. The single player arcade mode is fun, but doesn’t have any sort of story or reward for playing it. Online multiplayer works just fine, but that’s all dependent on whether or not you can find a match. That’s… basically it. Once again this is a game based on its battles and nothing more, and while these battles are fun, they have simply lost something compared to those of the original game.
I like Nidhogg 2. Despite my many criticisms I’ve sunk several hours into the game, and I will bring it out at parties for a couple rounds of brutal puppet mutilation. However, this is a far different environment than the fighting game tournaments where I played the original Nidhogg. Does this shift from hardcore to casual make Nidhogg 2 a bad game? No, but it does make it a significantly different game.
In the end I’d suggest that fans of Nidhogg try out Nidhogg 2, even if you probably won’t enjoy it as much as you did the original, because despite its many flaws, it’s still a game well worth its value. That being said, if they do make a Nidhogg 3, I hope they will re-examine what made the original such a great fighting game in the first place.
For more, read our Nidhogg 2 strategy guide.