The original Nidhogg was a game that was, let’s say “frustrating.” It was a fun, local multiplayer-centric combat game that focused on duels and featured 2D art. It was also one of those mutliplayer games that could easily break up friendships with its cruel difficulty curve. It’s a masterpiece of local multiplayer. So, when Nidhogg 2 was announced with a dramatically different art style, people were mixed. What was shown was definitely a continuation of the gameplay from the original. But the pixelated art was replaced with a far more gross and oddly fascinating art style which as it turns out, works incredibly well in practice.
The developer, Messhof , explained that the art style of the first game was based more on the necessity of keeping costs low, rather than by artistic choice. The art in Nidhogg 2 looks grotesque, but combining it with the beautiful backdrops creates this weird world that feels alien and familiar all at once. The world feels disgusting as you travel through meat-packing plants, sewers, and even into the belly of one of the giant serpents that gobbles players up at the end of each level. The best word to describe it would be “meaty” and Messhof plays up that aesthetic to the max.
A lot of the gameplay remains unchanged. You still are fighting to reach the other side of a level, all the while killing any opponents you run across. Matches start with both you and the other player wielding a weapon and dueling to kill each other on a single screen. Once a player is killed, the opposing player has the ability to run in one direction to reach the end of a level. Your opponent will respawn in front of you and then you have to decide whether or not you should fight or flee.
While a lot of the time you can simply keep running, doing so puts you at a distinct disadvantage. When your back is turned, the other player can throw a weapon at you and, with little guarding you, easily kill you. Or, you can try to fight it out, but again you may be at a disadvantage. The different weapon types each have an advantage and weakness over each other. The rapier has a good reach but going against someone with a broadsword can cause you to get your sword knocked out of your hand. The bow and arrow is a good weapon for ranged combat, but the arrows can be deflected back at you, leading you to kill yourself.
These micro-choices are all a major part of being successful at the game. Nidhogg 2 also forces you into uncomfortable spots by adding in specific areas in each level where you need to jump down a ledge or jump up to continue the journey. This leads to several levels where the game can be decided on if your opponent is spawned below or above you on a path. They’re points where literally “having the high ground” can be critical to being successful. Add to that spots where jumping over death pits is required as well as narrow paths that make it so you can’t jump past an opponent, and the game can be downright brutal.
If all else fails, you can just throw your weapon and potentially kill an opponent but that can be disadvantageous, as well. If your weapon is blocked, you will have no weapons at all other than the one you just threw, which is now at your opponents feet. There are dive kicks and slides that give you some option, however, to at least knock an opponent’s weapon out of their hands.
A lot of your wins and losses, however, depend highly on how fast your opponent spawns in. There seems to be some amount of randomness to it, which can lead to them spawning right in front of a screen transition or not at all. Sometimes, spawning will be instant, leading to you going right back at battling. However, the closer you get to a screen transition, the weirder the respawn seems to act. Sometimes, an opponent will respawn directly in front of these screen transitions, leading to you having to battle it out in order to move to the next screen. Other times, there seems to be a slight delay, leading to them spawning behind you, meaning the respawn is almost worthless. Without any respawn counter on screen, it’s tough to know exactly when they’ll be coming for you.
There are a total of 10 levels, all with varying degrees of difficulty depending on the type of player you are. While the club level looks cool, there are a ton of spots where you’ll need to jump down to continue running. Meanwhile, the sewers are cramped and do not allow for much jumping at all. The pirate ship has a set of conveyor belts that lead into death pits, meaning you almost always have to be moving or doing something just to keep alive.
Nidhogg 2 is just as frustrating and fun as the original game. With tough movement and combat choices, it always feels like you have to be doing something just to stay alive. Playing with another player in local multiplayer is a blast, and while there is an arcade mode for single-player action, it just doesn’t feel as fun as playing with someone else in the same room. Nidhogg 2 is the kind of game that can break-up friendships, for sure, but it’s also a game that feels far more combat-focused than many other games that have tried one-on-one combat in recent memory. It’s art style may be divisive to some, but if you play even a few minutes of Nidhogg 2, you’ll realize that it feels incredibly difficult and just as fun as the original.
SCORE: 8.5 out of 10
A code for Nidhogg 2 was provided to Pixel Related for review.