Ever since the first RPG games appeared on monochrome displays back in the day, gamers have been enthusiastic about jumping into the shoes of a knight or a swashbuckling adventurer, looting treasures and saving damsels in distress.
Players have fought enemies with their trusty swords through dungeons and battlefields in innumerable fantasy worlds. Nidhogg is the rare game that takes this aspect of combat and turns it into a fighting game, where you face off against your opponent, armed only with your swords, in a duel to the finish. You feint, parry, disarm, anticipate and counter your opponent's moves in a fast-paced battle where the decisions you make in the small fractions of a second usually decide whether you end up victorious or impaled on the edge of your opponent's sword.
Nidhogg features a fantastic, striking pixelated art style that is distinctive and memorable. There are four different maps on which players fight, and they all have their own unique set of hazards. Some levels have conveyor belts that continuously shift the ground beneath your feet, while others have clouds that dissolve. The objective of each duel is to reach the right or left edge of each level depending upon where you start from. If you make a kill, you get a few seconds to cover some distance towards your destination before your opponent respawns. Depending upon how skilled the players are, matches can last a few seconds or turn into 15-minute tense affairs where both players struggle to gain some ground on each other.
The Game Play:
With a premise that is as exciting and fast-paced as this, Nidhogg would have been a lot of trouble if it had a control system that didn't rise up to the challenge. Fortunately, this is not the case. The controls are uniformly excellent and extremely responsive, so you won't have moments where you look at your character and wonder why he jumped a second late. Any move you make can be countered, which means that this is ultimately a battle of reflexes. You have to get a feel for what your opponent is trying to do and build your strategy accordingly. The single-player part of the game is a fun but short-lived ride. You have to battle 12 AI opponents to become the ultimate fighter. But where Nidhogg truly shines is the multiplayer battles. Human opponents are often wildly different from one another, and this makes each match a tense and exciting affair. Some players are easy to figure out and defeat, while others make you wonder if they can read your thoughts. The pressure of each duel is a great test for your nerves and to see how well you can perform in a high-intensity situation.
What I liked:
You can choose to have a low, high or mid guard in addition to the ability to jump and duck. These basic techniques can be combined to create more complex techniques such as jump kicks, dives and rolls. As you would expect, each of these techniques has their pros and cons during combat. If you jump too often, your opponent can simply hold their swords out and impale you. If you try to roll past an opponent with a low guard, you will perish. The permutations and combinations of how players use these different techniques in combat is what often makes fights in Nidhogg resemble a chess game where opponents try to read patterns and counter accordingly. As mentioned before you can parry strikes and disarm your opponents if you do it correctly. If you get disarmed, you have the option to throw your sword at the opponent if you manage to pick it up. If the opponent has their guard up, your sword will fall uselessly to the floor, but if they're running with their backs to you, it can create a fantastic cinematic moment. Nidhogg doesn't spoon feed you too much and once it outlines how to use the basic controls, it lets you figure out how the different combinations might be used in matches.
Nidhogg offers a fantastic and intuitive fighting experience and a unique gameplay style that will keep you coming back to it. While the single-player campaign is solid, the meat of the game is in its multiplayer battles. The matchmaking system isn't perfect and once more players start picking up the game, you will be able to find online matches quicker. If you have someone on your local network you can play with, this game will keep you entertained for a long time. Even though the graphics look pixelated, the combat is tense, gripping and extremely competitive. This game will test your concentration and analytical ability thoroughly. Like any true fighting game, the ability to read what your opponent is likely to do and reacting in the split second before they do is what separates the winners from the losers.