Nidhogg (PC) Review

Dance Dance Revoluton. Rock Band. Beer Pong. Seven Minutes of Heaven. These are games that you are supposed to play with friends. If you have an uncontrollable addiction involving the slapping of plastic guitars, or a fetish for closet space, you can play some of these games alone; however, they’re all better when you have someone else around.

The same can be said for Nidhogg, a game that is at its peak when someone else is in the same room.

Although, I should point out that I am getting ahead of myself. To start from the beginning, Nidhogg is a game named after Níðhöggr the dragon. In Norse mythology Níðhöggr gnaws at the roots of the World Tree, and as someone whose favorite multiplayer callsign references a demon in Native American mythology, I can appreciate the unconventional choice of title. That said, I am sad to announce that despite the dragon name, this title has very little dragon action in it.

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Nidhogg is actually a side scrolling sword fighting indie-game that looks a bit like 1982’s Pitfall! Nidhogg even feels like a call back to the days of the Atari 2600, but the design of Nidhogg is still too current to actually be of those days.

I feel like the best comparison I can find for Nidhogg’s gameplay is American football with the ball replaced by swords. Each player is a team made up of one stickman. It could be a team of two things if you count the sword you’re given every time you re-spawn. You and your sword must fight a similar looking stickman with a sword. The person who draws first blood is instructed to run towards the opposite side of the map, but the direction can change if the other stickman draws second, third, fourth blood, etc. The goal is to sword fight (or regular fight if you lose your sword) the other stickman in a running battle to the end of 3 chambers. Once one of you gets past the final chamber, the winner will find themselves in the other team’s “end zone.” Here Níðhöggr the dragon makes a cameo appearance by eating the winner, and that’s the game.

Nidhogg is a bit of a one trick pony in the gameplay department. It dresses up the idea of this running sword fight with a number of level modifiers, multiplayer modes, local tournaments matches and the single-player campaign; however, at the end of the day everything comes down to winning the virtual sword fights.

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I will say this for Nidhogg’s one trick; it’s still a pretty good trick. Especially when another human is sitting beside you playing local multiplayer. Nidhogg is a game based on the simple controls of jumping, attacking and general movement; but, they can be combined into epic battles that can be turned on their figurative heads by a well-aimed dive-kick. A roll that allows you to avoid combat while picking up a dropped sword in time to block your opponent’s next strike can look great, but can also change the flow of the match. This game is full of fast paced action, and jaw dropping moments of combat that culminate in your ability to throw your sword into the other player’s face.

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Unfortunately, being a good trick does not keep it from gets old fast if you play Nidhogg often. Luckily, when you challenge a friend in the same room, the whole situation becomes about the friendly smack-talk and the challenge that you offer each other. It feels similar to the idea that poker is really about the people around a poker table and not the cards those people are holding. Although, this shouldn’t diminish the generally positive reputation that Nidhogg has earned. In order for any theoretical enjoyment to happen, Nidhogg has to be involved in the first place.

I was also hoping to solve Nidhogg’s problem of a quick burnout of interest with the online multiplayer feature, but I never found a great match. There are not that many people playing Nidhogg’s online multiplayer mode. I tried to play the game online at various times throughout the days I reviewed it, and the largest player count I found was five people online at once. On top of that, I was never part of a lag free match. Every online game of Nidhogg ended with either me or my opponent complaining that unknown forces caused the game’s frame rate to turn into something that resembles a vacation slideshow. Strangely, this only happens after someone leaves the first chamber of any match.

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This is actually a phenomenon that I also experienced in local multiplayer and the single-player campaign (which is basically a slobber knocker match or ladder mode depending on your chosen parlance). Every time I got outside of the first chamber there would be a significant drop in the frame-rate. Luckily, it was a problem that would go away quickly when a match of Nidhogg was being played on a single machine.

I’m also not a fan of the decision to ship this product with four maps. The game plays the same regardless of the map you are on, but to the developer’s credit each map does try to bring a unique twist to the game of Nidhogg. Unfortunately, four maps are not enough variety and the limited number only helps the game feel old at an accelerated pace.

In the end, Nidhogg will cost you $15, and while I did have fun with the game, I am not sure I had $15 dollars’ worth of fun. My biggest issue with this game is the same one I had with Need for Speed Rivals in 2013. The underlying concept of both games is good, and fun can be had with both titles; however, with each game I had to go out of my way, and work outside of the game’s systems to set up the multiplayer experience that I wanted. With Nidhogg this usually meant lugging around my heavy laptop, which is something I gladly gave up when tablet technology became common place. I guess that comes off as the ultimate first world problem, but why jump through hoops for Nidhogg when $15 can buy a large selection of entertainment experiences that don’t require anything more from me?