Have you played… Nidhogg?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Stab and run, stab and run, throw your sword and… It stabs. Now run, dive kick, slide and roll. These verbs are all that Nidhogg contains, but with them comes personal tactics, personal rivalries, and some of the best local multiplayer ever made.

My experience with Nidhogg is slightly different than most: years before it was released for sale, developer Mark Essen sent early builds of the game to press. That meant we had a copy of it in the office where I then worked, and we would play it in breaks over weeks, months, years. Every time we did, it would draw a crowd.

Nidhogg’s simple set of moves makes it approachable and, to spectators, readable, but the simplicity also lends itself to stalemates as two players jab swords against one another, to risky maneuvers as one player tries to break that stalemate, and to consequently dramatic escapes, dodges, reversals and victories. Audiences and players whoop and holler alike.

This release version, when it did finally arrive, improved the art, the music, and added netcode. Unfortunately the netcode sucked, but the core game remained incredible. It’s worth making friends for.


  1. Premium User Badge

    Drib says:

    But the sequel’s art is hideous and should be shunned.

    • DrJ3RK says:

      Indeed! The first was/is an absolute masterpiece! Playing with a few friends and a glass or two of whiskey is a very good time. :)

      I won’t even touch the second one due to the art style.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      Not that I’m necessarily a fan of the art direction in the new game, but of all games I don’t understand Nidhogg fans being snobs about art styles. The first game has great gameplay, but visually it’s *hideous*.

      • DrJ3RK says:

        The visuals AREN’T hideous though. It’s definitely minimalistic, however, there are things that go beyond something that could be considered a lazy pixel mess. If you don’t like its style, that’s fine as it’s subjective. However, technically speaking the fluidity and responsiveness of the animation, some of the actual 3D-ish effects going on in the otherwise 2D backgrounds, the tiny attention to details, (grass animation, small animals, glass breaking, smoke effects, blood spray, etc.) all come together to make a cohesive visual impression. The context sensitive music adds yet another layer to it. The fact that it’s SO simplistic, even down to the control system, but provides so much strategy, fun, engaging combat, and just downright silly antics shows how well it all comes together into a perfect package. It was/is different than everything else out there.

        The new version could have been just as good with an updated art style, except they went straight off the deep end with those malformed muppet characters. It became tasteless and tacky. If they just added detail to give a 16-bit era impression that I think they were going for, but still gave the players similar dueling swordsmen of the original, I think it would have gone a long way toward creating a similar effect with newer visuals.

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          Ninja Dodo says:

          Oh, I would never call it lazy, given the attention to detail. I absolutely agree it’s well-made, I just don’t care for it aesthetically, which as you say is entirely subjective. I would even concede that it suits the game well enough.

          I will admit I haven’t played 2 so maybe the new art style doesn’t communicate gameplay effectively, but based on the trailer: while I don’t know that I would call it *appealing* I really don’t understand the near-violent reaction some people seemed to have to the new art. They are both grotesque in their own unique way.

          I think it’s one of those artist-wanted-to-try-something-new-and-fans-wanted-the-same-thing-again type situations.

          • DrJ3RK says:

            I’ve definitely worded my opinion of it very strongly. I wouldn’t say I’d fall into that violent category, but I definitely hate it. Normally, I can put many visual aspects aside, and enjoy something for what it is, but in this case, it’s just far too off-putting for me. I think you’re right in that they just wanted to try something different. I just think they could have done that while still keeping the spirit of the first game intact.

            The first game leaves a lot to the imagination, but for me, I view the fighters as svelte duelists fighting over some manner of honor or revenge, (or any number of other classic reasons for dueling) in a bloody struggle to the death. Yes there’s a silly twist on that when you actually win, and the whole game can become humorous. However, the humor comes from the game-play in its case, and from the players playing the game, not directly from some goofy character on-screen.

            Turning the once noble fighters into grotesque muppet-puppet creatures just throws that whole feeling out the window. Now it’s just a direct, in-your-face (and IMO fairly tacky/tasteless) display of goofery.

            I would agree with you that the fans wanted more of the same, but not necessarily everything about the game. They could have easily updated the visuals to the pseudo-16 bit era they were going for. They could have added variety to the weapons, more stances, maybe add a button to the controls, more variety to the environments, more props, but still kept the dark, dueling aesthetic of the original intact.

            I just think people looking forward to an expansion or sequel didn’t get what they wanted. (me included)

            Now if they made a sequel closer to the original, and then made another game (the same one they actually did make) called Nidhogg Tomfoolery Edition or something equally silly that denotes exactly the silly experience they were going for, then I think it might have even been received better by the people that dislike it, or at least those people would know that it was a spin-off.

            As it is, I’ll just keep enjoying the original. I just wish they would expand it with more levels.

  2. leeder krenon says:

    I played it on what appeared to be an arcade machine at Death by Audio in Brooklyn in 2013 I think. Was absolutely gob smacked when it came out on PC, I had assumed it was some weird relic from the 80s or early 90s.

  3. Herzog says:

    Played for 1.2h according to my Steam account. It’s quite fun, but nothing too special in my mind (and my friends where we often play games together from the sofa).

  4. Splendid Snail says:

    I’m lucky enough to have a regular partner for local multiplayer fun – this is definitely one of our most played games.

    We were a little out of step with general opinion when NH2 hit the stores, in that we loved everything about it, from the new weapons to the art style. But after a few weeks of playing, we’ve noticed something about it: the games take FOREVER. 20-minute battles are the norm.

    We reckon this is down to the multiplicity of strategies enabled by having 25 different combinations of weapons (including unarmed). It’s all so chaotic that both players’ skillsets basically average out.

    It’s a little frustrating. In fact, we’ve swung back round to the opposite opinion: first Nidhogg best Nidhogg.

  5. Skabooga says:

    After an interminable waiting period for Nidhogg’s release, I went and downloaded Eggnogg for free, and never looked back. Played it a few weeks ago with a few friends, and it still holds up as a Nidhogg-clone that sacrifices nothing:
    link to madgarden.itch.io

    • April March says:

      Eggnogg is pretty cool, and I like how you can pick your character’s colour and clothes, and can choose either to be ‘shifting rainbow’.

  6. MikoSquiz says:

    The last time I played Nidhogg was at a housewarming party last weekend with a bunch of people who hadn’t played before, one of whom ended up hogging one of the controllers for most of the night and gittin’ gud enough to fairly consistently beat everyone else.

    And yes, people did hoot and holler (and mostly cackle breathlessly) at some of the dramatic reversals of fortune, especially when they involved someone skillfully dispatching an opponent and immediately jumping down a pit by mistake.