Review: Nidhogg II

Review: Nidhogg II

Have you ever wondered what you’d get if you combined tug-of-war and rock-paper-scissors, then added weapons, lots of blood, and an awesomely gross wurm that devours all it sees? Nidhogg II is a likely result!

Nidhogg II tasks you with an easy enough challenge: cross numerous screens to become the victor, avoiding or killing your foe repeatedly in the process. Deciding whether your foe will attack high, low, or in between while also worrying about them potentially just jumping past you or throwing their weapon into your face is much tougher than deciding how to form your fist in rock-paper-scissors, and the frantic gameplay doesn’t let up as you or your foe respawns repeatedly until one player wins.

Title: Nidhogg II
Developer: Messhof
Platform: Xbox One
Game Version: Final
Review Copy: Provided by developer
Interface: Standard Xbox One controller
Available on Xbox One, PS4, Steam (Windows and Mac)

The rules are simple. Reach the other side and kill anyone that stands in your way. Deftly parry and rend their throats, riddle their bowels with arrows, or squish their brains between your toes. The wurm cares not for chivalry.

Sequel to the indie hit of 2014, Nidhogg 2 builds upon the award-winning gameplay of its predecessor with new weapons to wield and levels to master, head-to-toe character customization, and the captivatingly grotesque art of Toby Dixon.

Tug-of-war may be a boring game, especially with only one player on either side, but it’s certainly less boring when you trade the rope for bows and various types of blades. Games are the same whether you play online, against someone on the couch with you or against AI: you square off against a single opponent in the central screen of a map with no one in control over movement. The screen stays locked until one player kills the other, and the victor is given the ability to run toward their goal. Eventually whichever player died will respawn between their opponent and their goal, getting a chance to kill them and take control of movement. What’s different once a player has control, though, is that they can just run right past their foe and keep on running if they don’t get killed along the way. There are 7 screens total – the central screen plus 3 toward each player’s goal – and in some of the easier matches I managed to win by killing my opponent and then basically just running and jumping like a madman! Then there were other battles where the AI and I would go back an forth on a single screen for minutes before one of us made progress, and then would lose it and end up right back in the center. These equally matched rounds were terrific, and the tension was almost hilariously thick as I would finally make it half way to my goal, get killed a dozen times in a row and then fall back halfway to my opponent’s goal. I can only imagine how hilarious the trash talking would be if you were playing against a friend!

Combat is simple but deep, which is perfect since the game is so fast-paced. You can hold your weapon high, medium, or low by pressing up or down to swap between them. You can swing, you can poke, you can even use a bow to shoot or just stand there and let your foe impale themselves on your blade, but be careful: arrows can be reflected if a sword is held at the same height and are just as deadly to the archer as their foe. To make matters worse, most strikes are fatal, and most battles are over within mere seconds. You can also be brave and throw your weapon (also a great tactic if they’ve jumped past you, and as players die or throw their weapons there will be more littered all over the ground to pick back up. If you battle back forth enough you’ll be metaphorically swimming in weapons, like a more painful version of Scrooge McDuck in his money bin. There are also different types of blades, from short little daggers to what look like broadswords. Small weapons have less reach and are easier to have knocked out of your hand, but bigger ones are slower. Most interesting of all, though, is that the game never offers you a weapon when you respawn, it merely puts one in your hands. It’s up to you to put it to good use, quickly, before your charging foe can put you out of your misery!

All of this is much simpler in practice; you’ll pick up the basics in a matter of moments once you’re playing it yourself. I love that the game is accessible enough for everyone to pick up and have a pretty fair chance at winning without ridiculously mashing buttons. There are no combos to remember, no health bars, no special meters; just you and a weapon vs someone else with one. There aren’t even varying characters to choose from, just varying colors and outfits you can choose from (much of which must be unlocked somehow). It’s also pretty dang funny when you manage to kill an enemy and they fall to the ground bleeding to death (there are lots of various deaths and animations), and it’s even funnier when you kill them and run past them a few times in a row without even having to bother with attacking them as if they aren’t even worth your time. Worst case, you end up matched against someone that obliterates you in a minute or less, and that’s certainly better than many PvP games where you get stomped on for 10 minutes before the game graciously ends your misery.

The only downside to the game is that it’s really not great solo. I tried matchmaking online a few times but never found a match. If you have someone to play it with in person that’s not really a concern, but for those who don’t it really cripples replayability. This is made worse for those who try to 100% a game as one of the achievements is to win 100 online matches! But hey, on the upside as a (likely) unintended positive twist, maybe the pressure of winning each rare online match for that achievement adds some tasty tension that wouldn’t exist if matchmaking was simple?

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