“Rend with cowardice.”
Nidhogg tells a tale of nebulous honor. It provides all of the framing of a professional duel, tainted, smeared over with the blood of many colorful, fighting fanatics. No swing too abrupt, no boot too dirty. Prepare for a hail of flickering blades, as warriors tumble in droves after every misstep, or after every twist of the wrist. Let’s not beat around the Hogg here, such duels were never fair. Armed or unarmed, fight or flight, whatever it took to reach the end of the hallowed corridor. It’s a series full of rousing airborne kicks, flighty fencer’s blades, roughneck spinal severing…and anything else you might find commonplace at a particularly churlish Renaissance faire.
Nidhogg 2 relates a similar story, a retelling so unchanged that it might be difficult to justify hearing it all over again. Though that isn’t to say that all of its value is lost to the mythology of its predecessor; but for a game that touts itself as a sequel, it only serves as a fresh coat of red paint on an already blood-slicked surface.
Near every element of the original Nidhogg is here, though the silliness of these escapades has become more pronounced, due mostly to its drastically revamped art style. Where once these characters were faceless, pixelated tokens of sacrifice and wanton killing, and where once they stood abut a blur of irradiated splotches, Nidhogg 2 has bumped up the fidelity.
Bulbous, claylike fencers prance around environments that look strikingly gorgeous (or grotesque), playing against sceneries of dripping lava, meat hovels, and bright, quaking forests. Some of the stages in Nidhogg 1 were difficult to piece together, or even look at for minute or two without wanting to barf…so these graphical updates are much appreciated.
Not everyone is so easily swayed, however, and ever since Nidhogg 2’s reveal, there’s been somewhat of a bluster over the switch in artistic direction. The newer character models adorn a witless guise, their limbs waggle about stiffly, and overall feel less anchored to the poo-centric world in which they fight. It’s apparent that these models were constructed via clearly defined rigs that don’t animate as smoothly as what we saw in the original. Which is fair to some extent, these new goofballs are clearly more complex models, unfortunately this takes away some of the oomph of your strikes, when your opponent merely goes rigid after having just been stabbed in the knees.
So, it’s not the goofy, cross-eyed looks of these bouncing baby Homer’s that really causes the problem, in fact, their goopy mohawks and faces of anguish can be charming; but it’s the characters’ lack of reactive animation that feels a bit less satisfying when you eventually thrust a blade between your friend’s ribs. All of those nitpicks aside, the graphical changes are generally an improvement, and are more visually appealing than the practicality of the original’s heavily pixelated style. These shrieking Krylon puppets are adorable.
The game has expanded upon its initially narrow focus on fencing weapons by dolling out several new steel friends. A hefty claymore deals punishing, laggard strikes, while the quickness of the dagger provides a short-ranged murderous alternative. The inclusion of these weapons adds a pinch of diversity, forcing you to readjust your strategy on the fly, as you revive with a randomly determined instrument of war. Not a huge fan of the bow, which usually results in the wielder kiting around until they manage to either kill their opponent, or the blistering pace of the fight.
Your lumpy avatar moves deftly in the face of imminent peril, and stringing together a wild series of punches and kicks when unarmed can prove just as deadly as the edge of a far-flung sword. Engage by using the always effective dives and sweeping kicks; and once your opponent lies helpless, feel free to stomp their juicy bits into the earth. Nidhogg 2 is as ferocious as ever, and that unbridled violence is still its strongest angle.
The game only really shines when playing it with a friend, even better if you’re both in the same room, so you can take your anger out in the physical realm. While dueling against the AI can still provide a modicum of fun, it lacks the emotion of a friendly bout between real humans. Fortunately, the game provides online multiplayer support. Though keep in mind, the game can still become a mechanical, tedious affair when not playing with a buddy. There’s a certain bliss you feel from slaughtering the enemy you know, instead of the enemy you don’t.
There are some games that can get away with changing their look, while leaving a majority of the gameplay unaltered. Nidhogg 2 just barely gets away with it. It all seems more like an excuse to get excited about the Nidhogg idea again, rather than try to improve upon it in any way other than the superficial.
The character customization is neat. The few new weapons are neat. The game variables are neat. They’re all neat changes that, had they been expanded upon, could have really pushed it far and above its predecessor.
Yet, it hasn’t changed enough to differentiate itself from the original, especially for a game with such a tight, simple concept. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a raucous time in short bursts, just don’t expect anything dramatically different from the first game; and your purchase decision might rely entirely on your visual preferences, or ability to gather together a group of horrible, like-minded individuals.
If don’t already own either Nidhogg game in the series, Nidhogg 2 is the way to go, unless the art style distresses you beyond the point of recuperation. But if you already own Nidhogg, you can afford to wait until the sequel goes on sale.