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.