Nidhogg reminds me of a time when I used to play really basic flash games with mates at school during boring lessons ion the computer lab, stuff like Slime Soccer on sites like Miniclip. We'd huddle around a single keyboard and try not to look too amused as we whiled away a quick five minutes with the most beguilingly basic games: titles that were quick to learn in a matter of seconds, yet offered unlimited replayability in competition.
Nidhogg is exactly the same as those games in every way but one.
It costs a tenner.
It's enormous fun, though, especially in short bursts. You have your directional buttons, you have a button to jump and a button to thrust forth with your sword. And that's it. As multiplayer fencing titles go, Nidhogg is as simple in its controls as it is in its archaic visuals. But it isn't long before you begin to realise that the simple inputs can be combined in a number of ways to make for swashbuckling encounters that move back and forth in seconds. Hold up and press attack and you'll fling your epee at your opponent. Tap down and you can pick it up again. Tap down while you're in motion, and you can do a nifty little action roll or a handy cartwheel -- perfect for retrieving dropped weaponry when on the move, or evading a high thrust and skewering your opponent swiftly in retaliation, right through the balls.
It's all incredibly fast-paced and wonderfully fluid stuff. You don't care that the graphics are about 30 years out of date because everything works so perfectly. You can switch between three stances -- essentially high, mid, and low attacks -- as well as performing dropkicks for the air, and nifty little leg sweeps that can prove invaluable when you've lost your weapon and want to incapacitate your foe. Poke your sword into your enemy and they'll erupt in a fountain of fluorescent pixels, occasionally getting stuck on the end of your blade like a neon kebab.
But the main aim in Nidhogg is not to turn your opponent into mini fillets, but to navigate through multiple lateral areas to reach an adoring crowd, and to eventually get eaten by an enormous, fleshy, flying unicorn-snake. One player tries to go left, the other right, with whoever got the last kill determining the directional advantage. If you managed to slice up your chum, a big fat GO! arrow will point you towards victory. If you don't have the initiative, you won't be able to move to advance to the next screen, and will have to find a way to impale your adversary before you can proceed.
It makes things rather tense, with players often sizing one another up at the start of round, daring one another to make the first move. It immediately adds a certain layer of strategy to proceedings, and if you have the advantage, simply trying to run for victory is a legitimate tactic. As the opponent in those circumstances, it's almost always best to die from going out of shot and then respawning ahead of your sprinting associate, keeping the battle going. Respawns are quick, as preserving the frantic flow of the action is essential to Nidhogg's success as a game, and it's an utter joy to play for a quick few rounds. There's even a tournament mode, making it perfect for lunchtimes in the office or at school, and a bunch of variables and enhancements that can be turned on or off, such as low gravity, boomerang swords, endless bunny hopping, and sudden death.
But it costs a tenner. And its appeal is limited.
The singleplayer might as well be non-existent. Fighting against the AI just proves to be a depressing activity with little reward or challenge. It might prove useful for those looking to get to grips with the subtleties of the controls, and chaining these basic moves together, but ultimately it's a fairly dull experience. Online multiplayer leaves much to be desired too, with the netcode particularly shaky, and matches firmly favouring the host. In a game that relies on swift movements and sharp thinking, a dodgy online experience is irritating at best and fundamentally game-breaking at worst. It's getting better, but it's still not perfect by any means.
That leaves local PC multiplayer fans, and that's a slim audience these days. On consoles it might be easier to recommend Nidhogg, and I really hope that it does make the leap (where's Sony's Shahid Ahmad when you need him?!), but there are a few too many little niggling issues to make it a wholehearted thumbs-up. It's brilliant, throwaway fun for a little while, but extended play reveals a paucity of content, particularly when there are only four arenas.
- Simple controls, fluid complexity
- Brilliantly designed competitive action
- Local MP and tournament mode are wonderful with like-minded players
- Daedelus' soundtrack is great
- Singleplayer and online MP are fairly awful
- Only four arenas
- It costs £12 at RRP
The Short Version: If you engage in regular local multiplayer with friends or family, then this is a no-brainer. Chip in a couple of quid each and you've got yourself a lovely little party title. But it's a bright-burner with a short wick, and you'll have to decide for yourself if that's worth a tenner.