Impressions: Nidhogg

By Alec Meer on October 6th, 2010 at 11:08 pm.


Nidhogg! A game of swords and worms. Nidhogg! A combative, shared-keyboard game for two knights. Nidhogg! A game of death, death and forever more death. Nidhogg! A game Rock, Paper, Shotgun liked so much that we awarded it our first-ever real-life trophy.

Mark ‘Messhof’ Essen’s lo-fi indie swordfighting title is, like all the best ideas (soup, hats, bio-mechanical ultra-tastebuds) incredibly simple. Two guys battle to the death, with their opponent the only obstacle to riches/glory/something. It’s essentially a side-scrolling fighting game, but with careful combinations replaced by desperate survivalism.

The single greatest thing Nidhogg does that one player’s death does not result in their removal from the game, but instead a precious few seconds for the victor to peg it further to the left or the right without impediment, depending on which player he is. Several screens far left and several screens far right awaits… well, I won’t go into that. Your only manner of getting there is to snatch a few metres of progress while your felled opponent waits to respawn. Because when he respawns, it’s right in your way again. Sure, you’re a bit further along, but you’re still faced with a mirror image of your one-colour, sword-wielding self. You must defeat him once more to gain even an inch.

Fight. Run. Fight. Run. Fight. Ruuuuuuuuuuuuun.

The single greatest thing Nidhogg does is that it is, invariably, a constant push-me, pull-you. A game can last 30 seconds, or 30 minutes. Or 30 days. Facing off against Quinns at the Expo, I initially lost ground at a life de-affirming rate, as he’d cheekily managed to play the thing on the previous day. But, just before he reached his final, far-left screen, I picked up enough of a feel for the fighting to fend him off. Back! Back! Inch by pixelly inch I stabbed and sliced and parried and jumped and slid and lucked my way back right, back to the centre ground. At which point we died more or less simultaneously, which causes the game to reset. I’m going to go ahead and call it a victory anyway, and if he says otherwise just ignore him, because he’s young and doesn’t know better.

The single greatest thing Nidhogg does it that the fighting itself is a curious and immediate mix of precision and reckless abandon. Your sword can be held at one of three heights, which you alter dependent on where the enemy’s held his – or, more to the point, where you think the enemy is going to hold his. A single blade-on-flesh kiss means immediate death, and a few seconds of crazed sprinting for the victor. You can jump over the enemy’s sword. You can slide under the enemy’s sword. But you probably won’t. That is, however, where the lunatic merriment lies. It’s a series of strategies and panics, reacting with both instinct and animal terror when the enemy runs or lunges at you.

When it works, it’s beautiful. When it doesn’t work, and you collapse shamefully to the floor in the middle of a dramatic leap, it’s hilarious. He’s gonna do it! He’s gonna… No. Splat. Sometimes it’s simply inept, running directly into an aloft blade like a sprite with a determined death wish, or cooling slicing open your foe’s guts then immediately plunging into a death-pit when you turn to run on. Sometimes it looks like incredible expertise: a quick 180 flip as you’re running, transforming your cocky pursuer into yellow or orange-hued prey, or a perfect hurdle over a waiting enemy and disappearing off to the next screen before he can react. Whatever your fate, it always, always looks exactly 48 times as dramatic as your own, six-key actions.

The single greatest thing Nidhogg does is that you can throw your sword. It might hit. It might not. It’ll certainly leave you without a sword, and then what? Run on, or run to where one lies on the ground, burning precious time and leaving yourself vulnerable. It’s a wonderful risk-reward gambit, but better yet it happens accidentally half the time, leaving you looking mad as a hotpot full of badgers.

The single greatest thing Nidhogg does is that it understands how to entertain a crowd as well as its players.

The single greatest thing Nidhogg does is that you absolutely cannot win. Or can you? There are things I don’t wish to spoil, even if they are already in the public domain.

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49 Comments »

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  1. Vinraith says:

    shared-keyboard

    While I can appreciate the “shared experience” aesthetic, it’s a crying shame that this can’t be played over the internet.

    • Dominic White says:

      It would fall apart with a ping over about 40. Look at how tiny the movements are, yet how enormously important each one is. It’s like a micro-scale fighting game, and they’re pretty much the single least lag-friendly genre in existance.

    • Vinraith says:

      @Dominic

      Yeah, I suppose it just can’t be done. It’s still a damn shame, though.

    • radomaj says:

      Two players with six keys each? Presumably two or three pressed at a time by each of the players. 4-6 at any time. Wouldn’t keyboard ghosting destroy this game?

    • Dominic White says:

      Newer, more expensive keyboards apparently don’t have that issue. Unfortunately, mine does. So when I do play it, I’ll use Joy2Key to map the controls to a paid of Sega Saturn controllers and play it in the most awesome possible way on a big-screen TV.

    • Brendan Caldwell says:

      Don’t know. I can’t think of any better moment to break this out than during a few drinks with friends in one room. Forget t’internet. It is ludicrously fun both to watch AND play. The silly-fun thing about Nidhogg is that it has such a simple set of commands – but as two people play (right next to each other – intimate), it results in a stupid amount of combination of outcomes. As a friend explained, the best games are ones that give people anecdotes to tell.

      Nidhogg does this. Nidhogg is beautiful. Nidhogg.

      NIDHOGG.

    • BAReFOOt says:

      You know what also makes it fall apart? Always pressing more than 3 keys at the same time (on a cheap keyboard), making all other keys (especially those of the other side) ignore being pressed.
      The amount of matches I lost back in the times, playing Mortal Kombat on a PC, just because the other side was blindly pressing keys like crazy, can not be count anymore.

  2. Joe Martin says:

    I played this a while ago at an Intel art exhibition. It’s good and all, but I honestly don’t see how it beats any of the other games at the indie jam. It’s fun for the first few minutes, and it has a certain competitive feel, especially when you’ve been on the free wine but, m’eh, it just didn’t do it for me. Fluid and fun in the short term, but ultimately not something I’d ever investing real time in.

    It was the combat from the original Prince of Persia given an oh-so-fashionable-8-bit makeover in my eyes and certainly didn’t have the long term appeal or depth of something like Frozen Synapse or Revenge of the Titans.

    //grump

    • Zogtee says:

      The combat description reminded me instantly of the old arcader “Great Swordsman” that you can find on MAME, if you’re so inclined. There was no running in that one, though.

  3. Torgen says:

    That looks like fun!

    And paradoxically, like it would be more fun on console, with a room full of beer drinking, pizza munching buddies providing the cheers, jeers and groans.

    Captcha: mshy. mushy, indeed, with a sword through the head!

  4. SpinalJack says:

    It was alright..

  5. Spacegirl says:

    probably it could use a Modern Warfare level-up-to-unlock mechanic. probably.

    I’d definitely like to see about 4-7 more Shader 3.0’s.

    as of now it’s just a SF2 wearing a Pixies shirt.

  6. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    I can has Nidhogg?

  7. Tom OBedlam says:

    This was absolute glorious joyous fun. At its best is when you’ve lept over your disarmed foe, sprinting towards the next screen while your opponent has picked up his sword and thrown it at you (swords travel about half again that of running speed), out running a flying sword is hilarious.

    I loved the fact that not only is it the people playing that piss themselves laughing but everyone watching giggling themselves stupid.

  8. MD says:

    Man, this looks wonderful.

  9. Premium User Badge

    VelvetFistIronGlove says:

    I’m looking at the videos, and from them it’s impossible to make sense of how this game actually plays. How do you raise and lower your sword? What happens if you both move forward with the sword at the same height? What decides who wins and loses in a fight when both players have their sword out (it looks random to me from the videos)? How does disarming work?

    May I beg someone who played it to explain the mechanics a little more?

    • SpinalJack says:

      wsad (player 1) or arrow keys (player 2) controls movement and raising and lowering the sword, there’s a button for jump and a button for thrust.

      Attacking and running at the same time causes the sword to be thrown.

      Crouching near a sword while unarmed picks it up.

      When 2 swords are at the same height (thrusting or not) both players are repelled back.

      If a blade touches another player (thrusting or not) that player dies

      If a blade moves up or down into a non-moving blade it disarms that player (I think)

      Punching a blade also disarms it

      Punching takes longer to kill a person than using a sword

      Think that’s all the controls

      Dunno how you avoid your ultimate fate at the far side of the screen

    • SpinalJack says:

      Also, holding a blade up to a thrown blade blocks it safely

    • Premium User Badge

      VelvetFistIronGlove says:

      Thanks, SpinalJack! That makes it a bit easier to understand what’s going on in the videos.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Saul says:

    It looks fantastic. When can we playyyyyyy?

  11. Saucy says:

    Can you fight on top of the chandelier?

    It’s not a swashbuckling swordfight if you can’t fight on top of a chandelier!

  12. tekDragon says:

    Screw the game, I want the music.

  13. Longboot says:

    Looks awesome, it’s maybe the first hipster videogame, I want it.

    LET ME BUY IT OR DOWNLOAD IT SOMEWHERE PLEASE.

  14. castle says:

    yeah, how/when can we play this? is it still in development? i was looking forward to this before, but now i’m genuinely excited

  15. Scypher says:

    Speaking from experience, this game plays fabulously when the keyboard is substituted for two NES controllers.

  16. Minicow says:

    So uh, anyone want to actually tell us what the final screen (or whatever) is?

  17. Redd says:

    reminds me of joust with all the jabbing and stuff

  18. Gah says:

    We need to know!

  19. Premium User Badge

    Hodge says:

    It reminds me of Bruce Lee on the C64, which had a similar two player mode where the second player’s job was to get in the way and try to stop the first player from winning the game. Good times.

    Looking mightily impressive. I eagerly await the super-secret release date.

  20. groovychainsaw says:

    The fighting sounds identical to the legendary Bushido Blade. Different stances (high /medium/low), thrown weapons, one hit kills. Back in the day, when me and my mate were exactly the same level of skill a fight in that would last about half an hour, dodging and climbing, waiting for the one opening then… snikt. Dead.

    It wasn’t a PC game though (shocking!), so I guess Nidhogg will do, nice to see someone (finally) taking on those ideas and applying them to something else (also see: Demon’s souls. Also not on PC. Its like I’m trying to wind everyone up here, isn’t it :-)

  21. Dinger says:

    The single greatest thing that homiologic anaphora does is grate. But I’m sure in Latin, delivered in the forum, this presentation of Nidhogg would shred.

    • Premium User Badge

      JB says:

      The single greatest thing is that you say it grates, yet you do it one more time =)

  22. the_fanciest_of_pants says:

    The website is infuriatingly minimal.

    The game looks done, where the hell can we get this?

  23. smokingkipper says:

    Reminds me a little of IK+.

    • Shazbut says:

      Kudos for mentioning IK+, irrespective of any similarity or relevance, real or otherwise.

  24. Jac says:

    Sounds like the mechanic used in the old NES game urban champion but better and minus random plant pots being thrown on your noggin.

  25. Culprititus says:

    Anyone remember Marshmallow Duel? I still wish i could find more people to play MD with on a shared keyboard. MDuel hails from 1996 as far as I can determine. It’s a 2-player deathmatch very similar to this but involving 3 tiers of platforms and ropes connecting them above a deadly marshmallow ocean. The platforms are randomized on each round. There are 3 bubble dispensers (left/right/top) that randomly give out items. These include jump boots, parachutes, a 6-shot gun, electricity charge, invisibility, land mines, nuke pucks, grenades and instant-death.

    The gameplay consists of trying to watch what your adversary is grabbing while racing to grab an appropriate counter item. Since you can only have one item at a time, bumping into an item bubble can cause some interesting interactions. It is ridiculously fun to play. Chaotic and hilarious while stoking the fires of vengeance. I still have the binaries that work in XP32.

  26. Shadrach says:

    So, I guess this is only playable at arty indie game conventions, or is it available for the us regular nerds yet?

  27. FRIENDLYUNIT says:

    For all the “reminds me of” comments no one has mentioned Swashbuckler. IMHO one of the Best Games Evar.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swashbuckler_%28computer_game%29

  28. Lobby says:

    Sweet berry wine, where on earth can you actually download it from?

    I feel excluded from the treehouse club :(

  29. Wiliamo says:

    My lord I want to play that, so badly. With controllers. On a big screen. Against my friend Boris.

    God damn.

    Whenever shall those of us on the other side of the world be able to experience such joy? Someone please tell me!

  30. Emma says:

    Is there still no news on when this will be released? I played it at the Eurogamer Expo and wanted to buy it for everyone I know for their Christmas.