It might be getting to the point where I overuse the word “unique” in Indie Focus. It’s easier to explore innovative ideas when you don’t have stocks and higher-ups to worry about, so indie games tend to be more experimental than the games that big publishers release. Innovation is obviously still present in those bigger releases but it’s unlikely that one will hinge entirely on an odd premise or mechanic because if it doesn’t pay off a lot of money is lost, share prices fall, and the board becomes agitated.
This is relevant because Nidhogg is another example of a unique game – one that could not have come from a big publisher. It is a fencing tug-of-war side-scroller that relies on fast paced and deceptively simple combat with swords and fists. To win a fight you must reach the crowd by killing your enemy and reaching the edge of the screen, at which point you will progress to a different area of the map. After doing this a few times you win and get to show off in front of your presumably adoring fans before you are eaten by a giant flying worm. For some reason.
You can fight with a sword or fists, though a sword is naturally more efficient. You have three stances consisting of holding your sword at a different height, the lowest is excellent in a corridor as it’s nearly unavoidable, the middle is best for disarming by moving into your enemy’s sword as they attack and the top can be used to drop projectiles. Projectiles in Nidhogg are thrown swords, which happens by holding up while your sword is in the highest position and pressing attack. Of course if your opponent blocks, jumps over and ducks under your sword then you are left without a weapon and the advantage goes to your enemy.
Nidhogg’s aesthetic is very much pixellated. The levels are each based on a particular environment, such as a castle or a forest, and each environment is alive with animation. One level has worms digging around in the dirt while another has one area that has what seem to be fire in the background and reminds me a little of the inside of Mount Doom from the Lord of the Rings. It’s not all cosmetic, however, as there are areas with long grass to make it just a little more difficult to see what’s going on, or platforms that break after you stand on them.
Situational awareness is a good trait to have as you battle your way through a level. Throwing a sword at the wrong moment can result in it just clattering to the ground as it hits the ceiling, which is embarrassing, but since you can jump, wall run and wall jump, a well timed jump onto a wall can save your life or help end your enemy’s.
After your opponent falls you have a few seconds to run towards the edge of the screen before he respawns ahead of you to try and stop you. Provided you were the last person to get a kill a large arrow will appear in the corner of the screen telling you to go and you’re free to do whatever you need to do to reach your goal. Fighting or avoiding your enemy and running off are both reasonable options. If you die, however, you will need to kill your enemy again before you can progress while stopping them from doing the same.
The rapid gameplay almost belies the tactical nature of the combat to an observer, but as a player you need to do more than attack randomly if you want to succeed. It is a fighting game without all the ridiculous combos to remember, you have a few offensive and defensive abilities and you need the right one at just the right time. As your opponent fights his way on to the final area before he wins the tension builds and your attacks grow panicky and even a little desperate, the feeling of a match slipping through your fingers as you try to stop it is one that I have never encountered quite so strongly in a game before.
Nidhogg has a single player mode where you fight against a series of AI characters, each more difficult than the last, as well as online and local multiplayer using the same keyboard. Naturally local multiplayer is hilarious and well worth getting someone over to play if you can, though I have been unable to get into a game online so far for some reason.
You can get Nidhogg from its official website for $14.99 and Steam for £11.99. My only reservation is perhaps that £12 is a little steep, particularly if you have no interest in playing multiplayer. $15 is around £9.14, you will get a key for Steam anyway, and the developer gets a bigger cut, so I would recommend going through the game’s website.