THE WAITING GAME
With developer Mark Essen torn between freelancing, teaching and fine-tuning Nidhogg’s feel, it’s been an agonisingly long wait for the IGF 2011 Nuovo winner and irregular event favourite to see a widespread release. But now the core game has been deemed ready for general consumption, there seems to be greater momentum behind it, with Linux and OS X versions announced days after the PC release, alongside hints of a console port. Essen also talks of wanting to keep the updates coming, speaking to Venus Patrol about ideas for a new fighter that incorporates some moves cut from the game in order to refine the animation and state set, such as a Yoshilike ground pound and the crane kick from Karate Kid. three levels – hip, chest or eye height – switched between with taps of up or down. Attack at the same height as your foe’s foil and you’ll be deflected, a scrape of metal your only reward. Find an opening first and the match’s impetus is yours.
The disarm is perhaps the clearest evidence of designer Mark Essen’s delicate touch, though. Flick your sword’s position to match an incoming attack at just the right moment and you’ll swipe the blade from your opponent’s hands with a whoop. It’s hard to do purposefully, but immensely rewarding. And while an unarmed enemy is far from defenceless – Nidhogg is made for last-second comebacks – the surprise should have given you the upper hand. The rest of the package is minimalist. There are just four stages, each one comprised of two areas mirrored around a central segment. Castle is of the Prince Of Persia school of ancient architecture, all cavernous grey block halls and death pits. Mines has conveyor belts and tunnel chokepoints too claustrophobic to chuck a sword around in. Clouds is the weakest of the bunch, its central screen bright enough to render swords and even players invisible, although dissipating cloud bridges add new tension to Mexican standoffs. Then there’s Wilds. It’s a treasure trove of tiered platforms, long grass to conceal yourself in and gorgeous pixel foliage. Every stage is primarily rendered in dark, muted hues so as to contrast against the retina-searing player colours and gore, with an animated background that puts us in mind of Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer video. We wouldn’t exactly call it easy on the eyes, but it’s distinctive even among the pixel art crowd.
Even despite the limited variety, local multiplayer is blissfully easy to lose hours to. The same can’t be said for online matches, which are hampered by sporadic disconnects and varying degrees of lag, the latter a real problem when success is measured in fractions of a second. The chat is less ambiguously poor, unable to deal with long messages and cursed with a confusing font. Let your sword do the talking.
And while multiplayer is evidently the raison d’être of Nidhogg, there is a time attack singleplayer mode to attempt, where you rip through matches as quickly as possible against AI swordsmen. Sadly, the bots are prone to stupid exploits, lingering on vanishing clouds or tumbling into pits, but they do a decent job of prepping you for real opponents.
Still, Nidhogg is not about lengthy stage lists, improvable online systems, fussy control mapping or AI. Nidhogg is about the purity of two friends on a couch duking it out as Daedelus’s moody dynamic electronica frames acrobatic displays of wits and reflexes. In that sense, it has no equal.