Stabby sequel doesn’t quite go the whole ’hogg
The question is, is it possible to improve on absolute perfection? The answer: er, maybe not.
“The arenas look fantastic: you fight on top of rainbows and in a club with spiked disco balls”
The first game was one of the best titles of 2014. It was a side-scrolling sword fighting game with simple visuals and mechanics: you held your rapier in one of three stances (low, medium, or high), and tried to stab your opponent while blocking their strikes. You could throw your weapon, roll, jump, and that was about it. Playing with a friend – or even better, a group of friends – was a tense test of skill. Nidhogg 2 rings the changes, adding more weapons, more gore, and a completely new art style.
The good news is that the streamlined stabbing of Nidhogg 2 returns largely untouched. This is still a game about nervously duking it out with a friend or an online random, feinting and switching stances until you get the better of them. Then, when they’re respawning, you leg it to the edge of the screen, which takes you to the next section of the level. Run far enough into your opponent’s territory and you’ll be eaten by a giant worm (which constitutes a victory, apparently).
Mind over splatter
It’s full of mind games. If you parry at the right moment, your opponent will drop their sword, giving you an easy stab. Should you press forward and leave yourself exposed or wait for them to make a mistake? That constant to-and-fro keeps us glued to the screen.
When we gather a group of friends it’s as fun, and as tense, as the first game, and throws up moment after moment of magic. In one, our friend stabs us and sprints forward, jumping over our respawning body. As he’s about to reach the edge of the screen we lob our sword, sending it spinning through the air. It impales his head just in time. We whoop, he sighs. So far, so Nidhogg.
Sadly, the new weapons, which you’ll randomly spawn with, don’t add much. The bow feels out of place, encouraging you to fight from afar. There’s a huge sword that only has two stances (upper and lower), so there’s no way to block a middle thrust. The most fun we have is still with the regular rapier, matching up against an opponent with the same weapon and skill set.
The biggest change is the art style. Nidhogg’s characters were stick men, its levels rough and blocky, but the sequel is a cartoonish mish-mash of ideas, some good, some bad. The arenas are fantastic. You fight on top of rainbows, inside the ridged stomach of a giant worm, and in a club with pumping bass and spiked disco balls. They’re more varied than the original’s without distracting from the action. But the characters are a misstep: troll-like creatures that look as if they’ve been crudely shaped from clay and have never held a sword in their life. You can customise their hairstyles and outfits but you’ll still have the same googly eyes starting back at you. The new models bring fresh animations (you can stomp on an enemy’s head when they’re down, for example) but, like the new weapons, they don’t improve the core game.
So, some of the new stuff distracts from the simple, fleet-footed combat that made the first game so addictive. But Nidhogg 2 is still very much worth playing: if you look past the unnecessary add-ons you’ll find the same old Nidhogg ready to welcome you back with open arms – and a sword in the stomach.
Whereas Nidhogg was pixels and stick men, Nidhogg 2 goes for a cartoony art style – with mixed results.