Nidhogg, like its name, is really odd and almost indescribable because it genuinely is unique. The game plays similar to PSX classic Bushido Blade but in a 2D environment. You get stabbed once and your character dies but unlike the aforementioned Bushido Blade, another one pops up in his place to continue the fight. It plays almost like a brutal version of tag, the person who kills first becomes the one able to pass to the next screen, should the victim return the favour he can then proceed to the opposite side.
It's a tricky concept to get across verbally (or in written word at least) but basically you stab, run, hope not to get stabbed, throw your sword, arrive at next screen and repeat until you pass all the screens and are ultimately eaten by the titular Nidhogg - and all while the other player is attempting to do the same. As you can imagine this leads to some insanely quick matches - or ones that seem to go back and forth for ages, depending on how equally matched you and your opponent are - but this is all part of the fun as Nidhogg has such fluid and enjoyable mechanics that any drawn out battles are tense yet massive achievements when won.
Nidhogg has won loads of awards over the last few years but I have to confess that I really didn't know anything about it until it recently popped up on Steam. Considering that everyone else in the world has seemingly been waiting for the release for years, I am actually glad that I had no previous knowledge or expectations as words (and video) fail to convey the joy of actually playing it. Also, if I'd been exposed to the hype, the cynic in me would have probably passed Nidhogg off as another 'indier-than-thou' action-platformer - which to some extent it is - but even if it ditched the pseudo-retro look it still would be a blast to play so I can't really knock it. Gameplay is king and this game, albeit simple, has buckets of frantic action and nail biting last minute victories - and for this it certainly deserves the accolades it has received.
Visually you will either love it or hate it. Nidhogg looks like the bastard love child of a C64 and a circuit-bent Atari 2600. Static images don't do the game justice, as it's the spectacular fluid movement that really makes the game shine. Sprites roll and leap with grace, swords are parried and thrown with natural momentum - it really is a smooth experience, almost in direct contrast to its raw, crude presentation.
Controls are spot on; never did they feel awkward or overly complicated despite the vast range of movement on offer. You have directions, jump and attack all - of which respond with zero animation lag. Should you want a more complex approach you can adjust your swords height by pressing up/down to raise or lower your stance accordingly, you can even throw your sword if you lift your sword over your head and press attack! This leads to some hilarious moments where you took a chance lobbing your sword only to be left defenseless.
The music provided by Daedelus is great and complements the game beautifully. Sound effects are used sparingly but are delightfully visceral when applied.
To conclude then, is Nidhogg worth the admission price? That's a tough one to answer really. As a single player - almost. As a multiplayer game - without a doubt. Your £11.99 isn't getting you much, but what you are getting is solid as a rock and a riot once friends are involved. Your mileage may vary but personally I would recommend giving the developers the cash just to see what they come up with next, as should the strengths of this title be carried into a game with a bit more depth the results could be stunning.
Buy the game here (from the developer's website).
Buy the game here (from the Steam page).