Nidhogg II is a one-on-one fencing game by Meshoff games for the PC, XBOX ONE, PS4, and the Switch. The original Nidhogg was created for a show at New York University, before eventually being released for the PC and Mac in 2014, as well as PS4 and PSV later in the year. The game is named after the Nidhogg, a Norse mythological serpent that eats people in torment, which is featured in the game.
Nidhogg II places two players in a sword fight in the center of a long horizontal level. Players are placed across from each other, given a weapon, and tasked with killing (or getting past) the opposing player. Each player works to block their opponent from advancing past them while simultaneously advancing past their opponent and making it to the far end of the level. When a player dies or falls behind, they are respawned in front of the advancing player with a new weapon, creating a new battle that may require a new strategy. Because of these frequent respawns, the game never feels totally out of hand and allows for the tide of the battle to shift quickly and effortlessly. Each game plays like a tug of war match, with players advancing against each other to try to break free and gain momentum to get to the end of the level.
The Combat of Nidhogg II is excellent. The game exemplifies the “simple to learn, difficult to master” idiom that has defined addictive gameplay since arcade games in the late 70s. There are only a few basic actions, move, jump, and attack, but these actions can be combined in various sequences and combinations that go a fair bit deeper. Too far to attack? Throw your weapon. Unarmed? Roll over a weapon to pick it up without breaking stride. There is a fun bit of strategy in weighing up the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent’s current weapon and positioning while deciding the best way to advance past them. The rapier is best when you are facing the opponent head-on, whereas the broadsword is great for defending against aerial attacks. Likewise, the dagger and bow are better for ranged attacks. If the player is unarmed, they could try and disarm the opponent, dodge the opponent, or try to get the opponent to accidentally kill themselves.
The cleverly designed levels affect the strategy as well. At first, levels seem basic, but upon repeated play, the player starts to appreciate how the different level designs affect the gameplay. Small thin tunnels force players to face each other head-on, doors that separate rooms limit the effectiveness of throwing weapons and using projectiles, and platforms of different heights will create interesting matchups. Knowing the environment of the levels allow for the player to fully appreciate the situation they are in and find a strategy that takes these factors into account. The weapons, the levels, and the different moves come together to create a high level of strategy to the game, even when each encounter might be only for a few seconds.
Nidhogg II has a weird, slightly demented art style that is a joy to watch on screen. The characters are animated with an unnatural bounciness to them. When the player jumps, they see the weight and bounce of the jump reverberate through the character. Characters move with an awkward gait and have similarly exaggerated animations for all weapon uses. This oddness goes well with the fluid mechanics and is a fun, distinct, and memorable style. Additionally, the player characters are similarly customizable in odd fashion choices, adding more to the personality of each character. This style is further enhanced by the exceptional soundtrack by Mux Mool. The beat-heavy electronic music clashes with the mostly medieval or natural environments and feels like it belongs more in a club like setting (there is a level set in a contemporary club), but it doesn’t feel out of place with the action-heavy, weird and funny art style, and the wacky gore.
While Nidhogg II’s gameplay is robust, its presentation is not. The menus are minimalistic, with simple sound effects and options. While a simple menu may be boring, it becomes problematic; there is a single screen that displays the basic controls buried deep within the menus, and the game does not feature a tutorial. Further, these controls don’t explain many of the advanced techniques of the game, like air kicks, bullet-deflecting, or rolls. This is slightly mitigated by the arcade mode, which is a single player mode that takes the player through all of the levels in Nidhogg II while slowly adding in more weapons. Seeing the computer opponent use various strategies teaches the player, but it falls short of the knowledge required to fully enjoy the complexity. Additionally, the online mode seems to work well and is largely lag-free, but the servers seem relatively barren from players such that my sample size may be too small for an accurate assessment.
Nidhogg II’s great gameplay and level design make it a joy to play. The game is relatively easy to pick up and play, but once the players see the layers of the strategy behind the levels, more complicated moves, and the weapons, the depth allows for almost endless repeated playthroughs with friends. This strategy isn’t really taught through the game’s nearly hidden “How to Play” section, but the arcade mode allows for some preparation before facing the first opponent. This frantic and strategic package is wrapped in a neon colored, bouncy, demented art-style with heavy electronic beats punctuating the action. As such, Nidhogg II is highly recommended.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to email@example.com.
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User Review( votes)
Nidhogg II’s great combat and level design layer the game with strategy, making it a joy to endlessly replay with friends.