So, the elephant in the room. To look at, Nidhogg 2 is Marmite. The reaction to the original reveal was venomous. Gone is the pixelated simplicity of Nidhogg. In its place is a nightmarish Play-Doh gimmick that looks like Homer Simpson’s been bunged in the washing machine with Clayfighter on a high heat. Out comes this putty-like mess with bulging eyes and giblet-y chunks. It’s an acquired taste, for sure, and one I’m not personally fond of. While undoubtedly wackier, it feels as if Nidhogg 2 has lost a part of its character.
Despite the radical visual redesign, at its core, Nidhogg 2 remains the same experience. It’s still a 1v1 fighting game taking place over seven inter-connected rooms. Players start in the centre and must work their way to the opposing end in order to jump into the mouth of a giant cosmic worm known as Nidhogg. Why? Your guess is as good as mine but winning feels good, so just do it. To get there you can choose to just leap past your opponent or kill them through many nefarious and often brutal means, running onwards to get to the next screen. You’ll die. Lots. Yet near instantaneous respawns mean you’re never out of the action for long. Nidhogg’s got the push and pull momentum of a game of tug of war, either lasting mere seconds or upwards of 15 minutes if you both give as good as you get.
Combat boils down to a simple fencing system once again. Weapons can be held at three levels - low, mid and high. Hitting someone’s mid rapier out with a low rapier will knock it out of their hands, likewise hitting a high with a mid. You can also stab, however, which can be blocked by holding your weapon at the same level. Set your weapon to high and it can be thrown for a ranged attack, although if blocked you’ve turned up to a knife party with some Panda Pops and a CD of Now 46. It’s very simple to grasp, yet tricky to master. Rather than emphasise skill like a traditional fighting game, Nidhogg is far more about tactical decision-making and attempting to suss out your opponent than stringing together insane combos. Avoiding combat entirely and just running to the far side is a valid strategy, provided you’re on the front foot. So far, so Nidhogg. Where Nidhogg 2 really differs is in the addition of new weapons. No longer will you have to make do with mere rapiers; scattered about the maps are daggers, broadswords and even a bow and arrow for ranged attacks. These all add an extra dynamic to the combat, forcing the player to consider not just best to use their weapon but also how to counter their opponent’s choice. The broadsword, for example, can only be held at low and high and excels at disarming an opponent. However, with no mid-stance, it leaves you vulnerable to attacks. It’s one of Nidhogg 2’s only additional gameplay wrinkles. It does liven things up for original Nidhogg fans but it will mean new players have more to get to grips with in order to master the systems.
Having sunk a fair whack of time in I am left with the bitter feeling that perhaps Nidhogg 2 wouldn't really be any worse off without these new weapons though. Nidhogg 2 is to Nidhogg what Worms 2 was to Worms. Worms 2 layered on more weapons and map variety but it sacrificed the tactical nature of the limited weapon list.The best competition in any game has always come from limitations, forcing players to bend very limited rules in their favour. The symmetry of rapier on rapier proved nigh-on perfect, yet alternating weapons on respawns and sometimes unfair match-ups makes Nidhogg 2 a less refined beast.
In terms of content, Nidhogg 2 is a more substantial offering than its predecessor. Aside from the new weapons, this time around there are a total of ten very creative stages to battle on, ranging from a volcanic mountain to a floating pirate ship. Each has a unique layout that forces alternate tactics, whether that be multiple layers, holes in the floor, or traps that can trigger. There are the usual tournament modes which is great for get-togethers, allowing up to eight players to compete in a knockout competition, as well 1v1 online and a single-player slog through every level. Online can be enjoyable enough but single-player is practically redundant - Nidhogg 2 is arguably only truly fun when you’ve got your opponent say right next to you, preferably hammering on the same keyboard.
There’s more of Nidhogg 2, and much of it is arguably better than original, but it’s a sequel that’s sure to prove divisive. For those who’ve pumped thousands of hours into Nidhogg, the changes are going to rile. The purity has been messed with somewhat, and it’s not quite the same pickup and play party fun. Oddly those going to benefit most from the sequel are those who played the original very little or even not at all.
Which all in all puts me a tricky position. Nidhogg 2 is a fantastic game, stronger in some ways than the original, and yet conversely weaker in others. 'Less is more' is a maxim I stand by, and it’s the reason I dumped Worms 2 for Worms years ago. Nidhogg is nigh-on perfect at doing what it set out to do - Nidhogg 2 feels unnecessary, despite variations on the theme.
If you put plenty of time into Nidhogg and you’re pining for something to freshen it up, Nidhogg 2 should do the trick. If you’re new to the series and on the look out for an excellent party game then I see no reason to look further than the budget-priced original. By making the original so fantastic, Messhof has fallen on its own sword in making a sequel.