I developed a love for fighting games early on in my gaming life with my brother and I playing through the tournaments and then facing off against each other and our friends in endless bouts. However I never really spent as much time with a fighting game as I did with Soul Calibur, a game that managed to capture not only my attention but that of good chunk of my friends. We’d play for hours on end with the crown of being the best player routinely passed on to someone new every week. Those days might be behind us now however the love of a solid fighting game still burns strongly within me and I think that’s why I find Nidhogg so rewarding.
Thrown into the ring with only a sword to defend yourself with you will face off against another opponent with the same. The aim is simple: to fight your way past your endlessly respawning foe to make it to the final, glorious section where you will be soundly applauded before the Nidhogg will devour you whole. Do not shy away from your fate, it is an honour to best your enemies and then be consumed by this giant worm and you will do it for as long as you deem necessary.
Nidhogg is visually simplistic even for pixelart games, with the majority of the world being solid colours that are utterly devoid of texture and lighting. This is done deliberately, of course, as whilst it would be nice to have some lush, hand drawn backgrounds it would only serve as a distraction from what you should be focusing on: you and the enemy you’re poised to defeat. Most of the levels work well however there was one which was a little bit irritating as it made your character and sword very hard to distinguish from the background. In a game where positioning is king this meant that fast became my most hated level but thankfully it’s only like that for a single screen.
When I was first thinking about how to describe Nidhogg I struggled to place it in a specific genre. From a technical standpoint its a sidescroller however it lacks the usual horde of enemies and instead pits you against a single respawning foe. Indeed the fact that Nidhogg supports “local multiplayer” (I.E. 2 people use the same keyboard to play against each other) makes it feel even more like the sidescrollers of old. However the actual game mechanics are much more in line with old school fighters, albeit with only a single character to choose from that has the same moves as anyone else. So if I had to describe Nidhogg I’d call it a sidescroller fighting game, one that has an incredible amount of technical depth for such simple mechanics.
You have a sword and you can place it in one of three heights and should your sword collide with your opponent’s you’ll bounce off each other harmlessly. You can also make a short gab towards them however should they move their sword down or up to block they’ll disarm you in the process. After that it’s down to fistcuffs for you which can still be surprisingly effective as it seems you become slightly more nimble without a sword to encumber you. Typically at this point you’ll be attempting to dive kick or trip your opponent so you can either grab their sword or snap their neck while they’re down or simply try to force them back enough so you don’t lose too much ground.
After the initial bout whoever won must then make their way across the map in their specified direction. The maps are symmetrical, so there’s no advantage to being on either side, and at predetermined points along the way from one side to the next your opponent will respawn, triggering the fight all over again. Should they defeat you then it’s their turn to start running to the other side, undoing your progress while furthering theirs. So sometimes you’ll breeze past your enemies, defeating them with a single blow (or, if you’re like me, jumping over them and sprinting) only to have it all come undone in much the same fashion.
Once you’re familiar with the levels and the sword/no sword mechanics the game evolves from a button spammer to one that has a good amount of strategy behind it. If you’re playing the single player the enemies all have a very distinctive style, forcing you to adapt your current play style in order to be able to defeat them. This is what prepares you for the challenges of multiplayer as there are numerous tactics you can use to unseat your opponent. Even with the best tactics however you can still be undone by the twitch reactions of your opponent, something that all good fighting games rely on.
Nidhogg is a deeply tactical fighting game that’s been distilled down to its very core. The simple graphics, distilled game mechanics and ultimately satisfying battles makes Nidhogg simple to pick up but incredibly difficult to master. The single player is a great introduction to the various tactics that you (and other players) can use, preparing you for the ultimate showdown with your opponent sitting right beside you. It might not draw me in as much as Soul Calibur did but it’s a great fix for someone who’s been aching for a decent fighter for a while.
Nidhogg is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total game time was approximately 1.5 hours with 33% of the achievements unlocked.