Wot I Think: Nidhogg

By Graham Smith on January 15th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.

Hey... Let's call it a draw?

Nidhogg is to swordfighting what Sensible Soccer is to foot-to-ball. It’s the International Track & Field of sticking people with pointy objects. It’s a two-player multiplayer distillation of a swashbuckling action movie, with every extraneous element burned away until all that’s left is a couple of buttons, a few moves and twice the concentration of drama and excitement.

This is Wot I Think.

Nidhogg is easy to explain.

Two players in an arena. Kill your opponent for the right to advance past them, moving from screen to screen, killing and dodging your respawning foe until a giant worm eats you, declaring you the winner.

Hold your sword in three positions: high, middle and low. Crouch and attack to perform a swipe kick. Jump and attack to perform a dive kick. Push up and attack to throw your sword. Attack a prone opponent to snap their neck. Move your sword into your opponent’s from above or below to disarm them. Do it all by pressing two buttons.

Are the characters made of paint? Maybe.

Nidhogg is difficult to explain.

Two friends sat in front of a single screen. Kill your opponent for the right to advance past them, then get killed by them before you can, as they’ve respawned in front of you.

Throw your sword into their face, roll to pick it up again, fall down a hole. Try it again only faster. Beat your opponent. Beat that respawn time. Get to the next screen, die, and watch your progress undone. Laugh. Woop. Wince. Scream.

Two friends sat in front of a single screen, and a crowd behind them. Can we play?

Yes. Nidhogg is easy to explain. X attacks, A jumps. Have fun.

An hour passes, then two. Friend X attacks quickly, using a lot of divekicks to disarm opponents. Friend A stays on the periphery, fencing, patiently waiting for you to come at them. Friend Y likes to try to avoid their opponents entirely, sliding under attacks and bolting for the next screen. Friend B likes to crouch and waddle and jump. They call this “The Wildebeest”, and they combine it with skewering their opponents and then moving their sword up and down for as long as possible while the paint-like blood spews into the scenery. They scream while they do this. Friends A-Z each have their personal style, and all of them are laughing. Nidhogg is hard to explain.

It's the Prince of Persia of 2D swordfighting games! Wait...
Nidhogg has been doing this to people for years, travelling exhibition spaces in North America, and being passed between friends on USB sticks by those lucky enough to have previous builds. This is the first time it’s been available to buy to the general public: four stages, a singleplayer with a decent, characterful AI, and online multiplayer.

Its main strength still lies in that same screen multiplayer, though. Nidhogg does what party games are supposed to: hold everyone’s attention, but in ways which make everyone more social, not less. It’s a game that anyone can start playing, but everyone can play their own way, and where even simple actions by inexperienced players combine to create an impressive, high-wire choreography.

There’s a video below of me playing against the computer (I’m the yellow guy). At one point I throw a sword at my unarmed enemy, who ducks it. I follow the sword by moving in for a melee attack, but they dive kick me to the ground and leap towards me with a quick flurry of blows. I roll away, grabbing a sword as I do. I dodge their next attack, turn, and throw my sword directly into their head. The whole thing happens in six seconds.

I die again less than three seconds later.

These moments happen again and again. I throw my sword at an opponent, they block it. They throw theirs, I jump it and switch straight into a divekick. They kick me out of the air and I fall into the abyss and die. This takes less than two seconds. It’s one part of the larger ongoing fight and it happens so quickly, no one has time to breathe before the competition has resumed.

The pace of it is fast and frantic and panicked, encouraged by constant death and rapid respawns and off-kilter electronic music and background art that pulses like a visual migraine. The tension of those same deaths and of your opponent’s steady advances towards the finish line encourages you to always care, to always be purposeful.

The combination smears your every action in desperation. Everything needs to happen faster, and everything seems to be just slightly beyond your control. This is what makes it funny. It’s also a great antidote to the terrible fear of competing against your friends. It’s hard – although admittedly not impossible – to be annoyed at a game in which both players regularly cause their own deaths, or where death is so frequent as to hardly matter, or where the ultimate win condition is to be eaten alive by a Norse dragon. You’re fighting for a good death, but there are no bad ones.

As a singleplayer game, rushing towards completing its series of AI fights at faster and faster speeds is a pleasing diversion, sustained by the AI which seems as silly and quirky as any person. As a multiplayer game, it’s destined to be brought out late at night, whenever you’ve got friends around. Don’t worry, you’ll say. Nidhogg is easy to explain.

Nidhogg is available on Steam.

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67 Comments »

  1. The Army of None says:

    Looking forward to trying this game out with some friends this weekend!

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  2. amateurviking says:

    That looks incredible.

    • Cung1947 says:

      my best friend’s step-mother makes $74 an hour on the computer . She has been unemployed for 10 months but last month her check was $13881 just working on the computer for a few hours. go to website……
      http://www.Jobs84.com

  3. altum videtur says:

    Blood sport to earn the right of a glorious death against the herald of Ragnarök.

    … yeah, that’s just about in line with how most of my social outings proceed.

  4. Caesar says:

    I must be a bad person but Nidhogg looks hideous, both in graphics and in content. I understand the concept and that someone would enjoy few rounds of this with friends but where’s the longevity? Also first we had these “retro” graphics that took us back (like Terraria, Spelunky, Cave Story) but then came the rush of these Commodore games (OregonFail etc.) that I personally don’t have any nostalgy for and couldn’t imagine paying more than 2$ max (which I don’t since it would be waste of time).

    So cool, someone likes this, yes, but what are gamers paying for these days? Many sites are full of flash game masterpieces for zero dollars and yet people pay ~11€ for Nidhogg (just because it’s on Steam?). There are also tons of co-op games for couch potatoes with less money and more content, with better everything (in my books).

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      Capitalism. You can charge whatever people will pay.

    • amateurviking says:

      Graphics like Nidhogg’s aren’t necessarily intentionally ‘retro’ for nostalgic reasons but rather represent a (perfectly valid) artistic/design choice based on serving gameplay and making the best use of available resources (time/talent/money etc).

      Certainly no reason to dismiss the thing outright.

      • Caesar says:

        I think it’s one of the best reasons if you dislike it.
        Capitalism doesn’t make people buy things, it’s the urge to buy something people think they need, or need to pay for.

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          It’s a videogame ffs. People don’t buy games because they “think they need them”. I sure don’t. You buy it if you like it.

          I think I like it. And for the record, I think it looks gorgeous, and I’m too young to have any nostalgia for the real oldies.I just like the style.

          • Caesar says:

            I’m not sure if my point comes through here but I meant that people buy what they THINK THEY NEED or they buy what they THINK THEY SHOULD BE PAYING FOR. Because you don’t need games. You missed my point like ffs-generation tends to do.

          • Captchist says:

            How does the existence of this game affect your enjoyment of your hobby?

          • Snowskeeper says:

            Caesar, you’re missing the point entirely.
            People are buying this game because they think it looks fun, not because “they think they need it.” I purchased it recently, after watching several gameplay videos and reading a few reviews. It has longevity precisely because it’s not complex–there’s no “Oh, gods, I have to play through this whole story to get to my favourite part /again/?”, nor is there any “Okay, so I have to cross seventeen different landmasses to get to this one secret unlockable… Yeah, I think I’ll pass.”
            And, frankly, it’s better than a lot of AAA games that have been coming out recently, graphics aside. In my opinion, complex character models, accurate portrayal of blood, etc. would have actually taken away from this game–the little simple pixel models are perfect for this. The only time I found myself even moderately irritated with the art was on the last part of the Castle Level, and that was more because I found the constant explosion annoying than because it was made out of pixels.

            And if you want to retain any sort of credibility, don’t try to win an argument by claiming that the other person is incapable of getting the point because they’re part of the “FFS-generation.”

          • Machinations says:

            “And, frankly, it’s better than a lot of AAA games that have been coming out recently, graphics aside”

            utter twaddle

            there is virtually no game here, this is just window dressing that has been hyped for 4 years; its trash

            you want to play this game, but better? get EGGNOGG, for free

      • Prolar Bear says:

        I agree, and the choice of art style certainly is up to the dev. But, frankly, I have to say it does look like an eyesore to me as well.

        Also, this game popped out last week and everybody started screaming “NIDHOGG NIDHOGG NIDHOGG” like it was something outworldly…like, I dunno, HL3. Did I miss something?

        • Aerothorn says:

          Yes, you missed the following the game has built up over 5 years or so, and the very long wait for a commercial release. You may have missed this because most major sites do not report on non-commercial games, so a thing can be very popular/notable in a sizable gaming community, but if its released for cash everyone treats it like it’s a big new thing (see: Stanley Parable, Dear Esther).

          • Prolar Bear says:

            Makes sense, true. There’s no freeware version around I reckon? I watched the video and the art style is much much nicer in motion, to be honest.

          • Jakkar says:

            Prolar: Download ‘eggnogg’, the parody demake. Very fun game in its own right – but it’s for local multiplayer.

    • Viroso says:

      Did you watch the video? Man, watch the video.

    • fatgleeson says:

      For what its worth, I am too young to have had a Commodore but still like this style of graphics, so its not all nostalgia-grabbing

    • Stardreamer says:

      Dumping on the graphics is wrong and dangerously so, but I do accept Caeser’s other point: it’s very hard to see the long-term attraction. Death happens swiftly to both players making it appear skill won’t play much of a part in proceedings.Arbitrary deaths are fun for nobody. Sure, it’ll be hurhurhur fun for a blast with some mates but even there it looks too shallow to hold attention for long.

      This feels like another RPS Darling that isn’t actually as great as it’s made out to be, destined to rake in a few bucks then end up as Pay What You Want Bundle fodder.

      • Nevard says:

        Quick death and Arbitrary death don’t really go hand in hand at all, nor does a lack of skilled gameplay, I’m not quite sure you are implying that.

      • Evilpigeon says:

        I’ve played four or five hours of this game now against friends, there is a reasonable amount of depth to the game, the fighting system is just about complex enough that there are always several options for beating or getting past your opponent, the speed means that each life is mostly about positioning and prediction than the basic mechanics of fencing, the game is absolutely non-random and your deaths are anything but arbitrary.

        I’m not sure there’s enough to it for it to be something you can get 100hours out of playing strangers online but if you have friends either online or offline to play against then you’ll get a lot out of it.

        • Gap Gen says:

          Yes, I imagine if you get into it you could get quite into the mechanic of predicting what your enemy will do and finely positioning your blows to counter that. It’s not just about bludgeoning your way through, though I’m still not good enough at it to really feel like I’m getting it beyond a few easily blockable moves.

      • Machinations says:

        “feels like another RPS Darling that isn’t actually as great as it’s made out to be”

        we have a winner

        as with Shadowrun Returns, this is an overhyped piece of garbage. If you need to validate your hipster contrarian creds, then buy Nidhogg. Otherwise, like the rest of the sane bunch of gamers over here, laugh at people foolish enough to drop 10 quid on a pretentious faux-art game that could be whipped up in about 4 hours using gamemaker.

  5. BTAxis says:

    That opening paragraph put me in mind of a version of Nidhogg where instead of two fencers you have two football players who have to maul and murderize each other with their ball.

  6. someguyxx says:

    advance past them.

    advance PAST them.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      It is like a finger pointing the way to the moon
      DOOOOOONT LOOK ADA FINGER! Or you will miss all that heavenlee glaww-eeee

    • Runty McTall says:

      Thank you!

    • Graham Smith says:

      Just a typo – fixed!

      • vanilla bear says:

        A typo you made twice and fixed once! You’re fired – Ed.

  7. Rymosrac says:

    Someone really ought to mention Eggnog here.
    It’s not as feature-rich as Nidhogg, but the controls feel better to me. Which is subjective, but important in this kind of game.

    Also it’s free.

    http://madgarden.net/2013/05/eggnogg/

  8. FunkyBadger3 says:

    Is it as good as Bushido Blade?

    • Jesse L says:

      One of you has asked the only true question…

    • Kaeoschassis says:

      Oof, right in the childhood…

    • history_denier says:

      That same one-false-move-and-I’m-dead tension is there, definitely. Not as much depth, but we had an 18 minute match that ended up being 97 kills to my 86, though I actually won. There was much shouting and cursing and wailing in agony throughout. Very similar to my memories of BB.

  9. Synesthesia says:

    Yes! This looks right up my alley. My most played multiplayer has rapidly, rapidly become samurai gunn. The hidden depth in these fast paced local multiplayer games is just fantastic. Yesterday, i played for 2 hours with someone who had never played, and the curve of our skill was astonishing. By the end, the amount of simultaneous deaths was almost too much.

    Can’t wait for towerfall as well!

    It also looks wonderful. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, nidhogg.

  10. MarkB says:

    I wasn’t going to buy this because it was too damn expensive. Then I watched the video. How can anyone not want to play that?

    • Sian says:

      Simple: The flashing backgrounds give me a headache. I think that’s reason enough.

  11. Kemuel says:

    As fun as it is, it does not feel like particularly good value at the moment. Only four stages? An unplayable tutorial? Laggy netcode, which more or less removes matchmade multiplayer entirely?

    Even at £16/2-pack I’m feeling a bit ripped off, but I guess I can see this as an investment in further development. Looking forward to the chance to play some local games, see if that justifies it a bit better to me.

    Also, is it just me or are there no resolution/fullscreen/etc controls at all? Did I miss them on the options menu somewhere?

    • Han says:

      I played a bit of this by myself and also locally. It really is the greatest when played locally, just seeing the reactions of people playing with you firsthand.

      Also the game was patched just yesterday fixing the tutorial and adding fullscreen/windowed mode. Control options were always there.

    • Shadow says:

      This game reminds me of Samurai Gunn. Great concept, but considerably overpriced and very limited in content and replayability. Sure, it’s fun with friends (and only then), but considering adult lives and the complexities of coordinating attendance for gaming nights, it’s a game you’ll play, on average, once a month. And there’s just not enough substance in it to remain popular in such nights for long.

      So yeah, like Samurai Gunn, the fundamental problem with Nidhogg is its pricing. The truth is there’s a good number of more than decent games which cost the same or less and provide many more hours of fun.

  12. meepmeep says:

    I can’t believe people are enjoying this game which was made out of unrefined gack from the pixel mines, costs seventeen bajillion doubloons and is made by a developer who once stood on an ant. I am going to post my disappointment at this game’s very existence on every forum on which its name is mentioned until you all learn to stop enjoying it.

    • dE says:

      Ah, someone allergic to criticism again, eh? I feel for you.

      • meepmeep says:

        To be honest any discussion about this game is offensive when there are other games that cost other amounts of money and are not this game.

        • dE says:

          Not Allergy then, you’re just trying hard on the flamebait. Alright.

          • Bent Wooden Spoon says:

            I’m thinking you should probably try turning off your browser’s sarcasm filter.

          • Gap Gen says:

            Is this post:
            [x] Wrong ?
            [x] Dangerous ?
            Please mark with a cross all that apply.

        • Kaeoschassis says:

          For shame…?

    • Machinations says:

      so you are complaining about complainers then?

      some people just cannot take it

      I bought INJUSTICE for 10 bux and laugh at anyone who bought this pretentious trash – for reals

  13. Davea says:

    I really think it’s worth noting just how bad the netcode in nidhogg is. It truly is awful, even with low ping, its still unplayable; contrast that to GGPO netcode and you’ll see what nidhogg could’ve been.

    The game itself is great, but good netcode would’ve made it incredible.

    • bigblack says:

      Davea, I don’t mean to contradict your worthless anecdote with my own worthless anecdote, yet I must say that I’ve played many MANY matches of Nidhogg online since buying this thing 2 days ago and have encountered zero lag problems. So there.

      • Machinations says:

        so, you are nearly alone

        have a look at the steam forum

        apparently 4 years of development time was not enough to figure out netcode – BUT, dude grew a sweet ‘stache, so there’s that.

  14. mukuste says:

    One question: is it DRM-free once I have downloaded it through Steam, or is it tied to the Steam API? Because this really seems like a game that would be great to carry around on a USB stick.

  15. Scumbag says:

    So running on the description you kill the enemy for an opportunity to get eaten by Nidhogg himself? Corpses on the shores of the dead and all that norse stuff.

  16. bad guy says:

    When it’s DRM free and ~4€ I’ll buy it

    • deadly.by.design says:

      I can live with the DRM, since all of my games currently live there. Honestly, as I get older and busier, I care less and less about PC issues I used to whine about. I’m even tolerating the uPlay nonsense required to play FarCry3 on Steam. It’s not that I *like* it, but that it works, is fairly unobtrusive (only on when I play), and nothing I can do will remove it.

      Bring on the cheaper price point, though!

  17. deadly.by.design says:

    If I finally buy this, I think it will correspond with the unearthing of our old projector.

  18. DantronLesotho says:

    I watched the stream of Anthony Carboni and Adam Sessler playing this and it was NAILBITING because the action is so good. This seems like one of the best multiplayer games to ever come out and I am in the camp that absolutely loves the art style (although the Nidhogg itself looks stupid). I think this is going to be one of the best streamed games for a long time. That being said, the lack of abundant stages and inconsistent AI for single player makes it almost not worth it to play alone if you have no friends like me.

  19. HeroJez says:

    I will say this: My friend just built a PC that seems like it could find the truth and particulars behind the universe’s Dark Matter whilst running 3 copies of Crysis 3–upside down–in 3D–whilst running Minesweeper… also in 3D..

    Anyway.. despite that, and the many eye-watering titles available, we played Nidhogg for AGES over the weekend. It’s such a great game with friends (via local multiplayer). Two pads, winner stays on. Honestly, such fun. I know a game that looks like someone shat it out whilst wrecked at Game Jam might not appeal to some (especially if u got sik grafix card and shit) but it’s fantastic fun, and a well worth a tenner–although £5 would probably be the sweetspot.

    Anyway.. looks don’t do it justice, and if you’re still on the fence, then wait until humble bundle, I guess… but it’s definitely worth beating any averages for if you have to… especially if you have IRL friends and a couple of Wired 360 pads. :)