Written by Ash Wood.
Appearances can be deceiving. On the surface, Nidhogg seems to be a very simple game. The basic visual style and seemingly non-complex gameplay come across as rudimentary, but the hidden depth within offers a wealth of entertainment. The game doesn’t really set you up with any precursor or backstory as you and an opposing player face up against one another in the middle of a multi-frame arena.
The first thing that strikes you is the pixel graphics art style. It presents itself in a much simpler format to other pixel art games such as OlliOlli and Hotline Miami with only a handful of pixels creating effectively a stickman as the playable characters. The background behind the action does often present slightly more visually engaging scenes including waterfalls and lava but the simple style really helps to bring the attention down to the nitty gritty details.
It is a game that is best played in a 2 player, 1 v 1 setup. Both players spawn in an even position with the first one to land a fatal blow gaining the upper hand. But is isn’t just a battle to whittle down health bars or life numbers, it’s an elaborate tug of war with both players striving to reach their respective ends of the arena. The player who last made a kill is given the opportunity to carry on to the next frame of the battleground and further before the opponent respawns and the battle commences again. It can be unrelentingly frantic with players desperately sprinting to the end of the frame before their foe can respawn and the battle begins anew.
The combat is very smart and elegantly crafted. Both players are armed with a sword with which to fence with the opponent. The game primarily only makes use of a jump and attack button to do most of the basic combat but things become much deeper when you add in the raising and lowering of swords. If both players attack at the same time the swords parry each other away, so to overcome this you need to raise or lower the sword to aim for a gap which can bring a tactical, chess-like standoff to the game.
Nidhogg does also allow the player an element of ranged combat. by raising the sword above your head you have the opportunity to throw it at the opposition. It travels with a fair bit of pace across the arena and is a very effective tactic if you can line it up right. Get it wrong though and you will have to utilise every ounce of jumping and dodging to pick up your sword again before being struck down. If timed correctly you can even pull of a cheeky roll between the other player’s legs which is a cheap but ultimately brilliant move.
Once you have mastered the combat and negotiated the intricate fencing tug of war that is Nidhogg you make it to the end of the level and jump off to be eaten by the mythological Norse serpent Níðhöggr which, oddly, counts as a win.
With most games, sitting back and watching them can be a bit of a boring experience, even the most brilliant and well crafted games are notably less enjoyable when not playing them. Nidhogg however is just as much fun to watch as it to partake in yourself. When I had the opportunity to preview the game on the EGX show floor, a pair of clearly experienced players fought an epic battle. The crowd around them grew and soon all of us were laughing away and getting totally swept up the game as each player got close to the end of the level only to be pushed back again with some brilliant swordplay.
While the game has existed for a fair while now, its transition to PS4 is a great one. This really is a game to play on the sofa with two players and a group of people to watch and swap between. Having it on a console in the living room and with the DualShock 4 working as a great controller for it, this looks to be the best way to enjoy Nidhogg’s frantic fun. Despite the simple graphics and seemingly basic outlay, it is a brilliantly clever game and will join a great group of titles helping to breathe a bit of new life into couch multiplayer on the PS4 such as Towerfall Ascension and Sportsfriends and I, for one, cannot wait to play it fully with friends.