Nid­hogg 2 PC, PS4

Strip off and un­sheath for the most sur­pris­ing se­quel of the year

EDGE - - GAMES -

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

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