Nidhogg 2 PC, PS4
Strip off and unsheath for the most surprising sequel of the year
You can thank sketchy netcode for Nidhogg 2. The first game’s online mode was, at launch, not quite fit for purpose, this frantic, twitchy fighting game suffering from anything other than perfect conditions. Messhof co-founders Mark Essen and Kristy Norindr have already patched Nidhogg’s netcode twice; even now, with the sequel announced, a third such update is in beta.
“We knew we wanted to add things to Nidhogg, but we also wanted to make sure we spent as much time on the netcode as possible,” Norindr tells us. “That took a lot longer than we thought it was going to, but we finally got to a point where we could get excited about adding things. But the list had grown so long that it felt more like a sequel.”
It looks like one too, thanks in large part to the art style, produced by freelance artist Toby Dixon. Essen says he “wanted to go crazy with the design this time”, and Dixon has certainly taken that ethos to heart. Chunky, cartoonish and more overtly comical than the stark, minimalist aesthetic of the original game, Dixon’s work has proved divisive – his work on the characters in particular sparking a rush of ‘naked Homer Simpson’ gags – but it adds buckets of personality to a game whose predecessor was austere to a fault.
Two rotund, buck-naked men splattering the field of play with yellow and orange gore like a game of Splatoon gone horribly wrong is quite the departure from the original
Nidhogg’s pixel stickmen. Essen, who was coder, designer and artist on the first game, certainly appreciates Dixon’s input, and not just in terms of what he’s brought to the aesthetics. “It’s just given us more bandwidth,” he explains. “Toby can try out the look of things; I can think of a design element I want to try out in a level and, rather than me getting diverted making art for a week, he can bang it out in an afternoon while I’m coding something else. It’s really changed the workflow of the design process.”
That’s just as well, since Nidhogg 2 adds complicating factors to a formula whose balance was born in its purity. Nidhogg’s stickmen fought with swords, poked high, middle or low, or thrown horizontally. They had their bare hands, and an aerial dive kick. That moveset survives here, but it’s been expanded with more weaponry: throwing knives, an axe, and a bow and arrow have been shown so far, with more to be announced in the run up to release.
Essen modestly describes the process of balancing these new elements as “a lot of iteration, I guess – just like anything”, and points out that it took similar work to pare back the original game to its bare essentials: “There used to be more melee moves; you could catch thrown swords. We even had the Karate Kid crane kick in there at one point. You have to figure out what’s essential and what’s not; we’re still going through that process with Nidhogg 2, but the game’s in good shape right now.”
A playable build, taken to Twitchcon the day after the game was announced, certainly backs that up. Look past the pixellated fat men and the new weapons, and this is still resolutely, absolutely Nidhogg, a game of anticipation and reactions, a tug-of-war of heart-in-mouth escapes and stunning comebacks, its bouts won or lost by the width of a single pixel. It’s hard not to be a little concerned about the risks inherent in adding new elements to a design that was a hair’s breadth from perfection, but the brilliance of the first game means that the sequel earns the benefit of the doubt for now. And if nothing else, at least this time around the netcode ought to be up to scratch.
It adds buckets of personality to a game whose predecessor was austere to a fault
Messhof co-founders Mark Essen and Kristy Norindr