I don’t even know how to properly express what happened when I played Nidhogg 2 most recently. I feel like something was promised to me, and I got something that vaguely resembled what I was promised but anyone who watched me receive the gift could tell that something was off. It’s like when Life of Pablo dropped last year: yes, it was a Kanye West album, you couldn’t deny that, but everything about it felt like dropping a ball of tape into a bucket of glitter and calling whatever came out art. I feel like my critique can’t even be taken at the same value as other people’s, as, gasp, I never played Nidhogg, despite it winning quite a few acolades and it being conveniently bundled just about a year ago. No, the name is quite well known to me, and I’ve seen videos and stills, but never played it myself. So, does that make me the best judge of Nidhogg 2? Let’s find out.
Nidhogg 2 is a strange and novel concept, at least in the story. You fight against another player or AI across several worlds, each one consisting of seven linear stages, with the point to get across the finish line and be consumed by a massive worm. The winner. The winner gets eaten by a giant worm and that’s how you win. It doesn’t totally make sense and there isn’t a “story mode” to speak of, but whatever, I can dig it. In order to get there, you have to stay alive and keep slaying you ever regenerating foe using whatever weapon you have on hand and, in some cases, your bare fist. You have a small variety of weapons that becomes more available the further on you move with the game and each uses their own bit of fast thinking strategy to become deadly efficient. Complete all the worlds, become the champion. Nidhogg 2 is definitely an arcade game with the idea of being brutally fast and concise.
The weapons, to their credit, are standard but used well. The first is the classic rapier, which is fast and precise. The broadsword is more slow and awkward, but strong and capable of easily disarming a foe. The dagger is lethal at close range and can be the perfect counter to hand to hand combat. Lastly, the bow gives you the ranged attack you want but, ultimately, sucks. I’m sorry, the bow straight up sucks. Unless the other player or computer has their back to you, it’s hilariously easily to jump arrows or hit them out of the sky with your weapon and send them back. I died by my own arrow a couple of times. I think I’m just a brutish character, because I love that broadsword. I disarmed a lot, sliced off heads a lot and didn’t blame the weapon when I got taken down by faster moves and slier wits. The first couple of worlds you fight in will only have one weapon for the duration, but then things become varied and random. You die with a dagger, you respawn with a rapier, anything can happen. And, if you’re like me and hate most weapons, you can just THROW the damn thing and go from there. A lucky toss means impaling the enemy from a distance while you run like crazy. A bad throw means…now you don’t have a weapon, but that’s ok! Because you don’t need to fight!
With the exception of the first duel upon spawning and one particularly confining level, there were several worlds where I fought the absolute bare minimum in Nidhogg 2. Let me explain: when you kill your opponent, you gain the favor of the worm, or the game, or whatever. The level now progresses according to your prerogative. If the enemy gets run off the screen by you pulling a Gump and getting the hell out of there, too bad. You’re in control. I actually got into a great pattern, for a couple of worlds, of just winning the first fight, and then bolting as fast as I could, only pausing long enough to jump over the enemy and then keep moving. Sure, he would throw his weapon, but that was easy enough to dodge. If he had a bow I might be in trouble, but he didn’t always fire fast enough for it to really affect me. I don’t know if that means I’m playing the game wrong, but I won, right? I killed once, and then just didn’t die till I got to the worm and let him eat me. Winner?
If you don’t get into loving the Nidhogg 2 main game play right away, the online and local tournament options aren’t going to exactly sway your opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I love the way that you can change things up for a local tournament and basically set the rules for what your friends and you can use in the arena, and the cheat options can make for some interesting effects (I found baby mode a great way to make things even more ridiculous). But it’s not like you can suddenly turn on a Go Kart mode or whatever, it’s still just “kill or be killed, only this time the gravity is a bit lower.” I don’t have a lot to say here because, at least in this house, once you understand the core idea it really loses some of its appeal quickly.
Now, here’s where things get a trifle ugly. If you’ve ever seen Nidhogg, you’d know the original was this really crisp, sort of Atari 2600 aesthetic that also ran miraculously fast and fluid. It was a perfect way to catch players off guard by setting their expectations on the floor and then absolutely wowing them with the sharp swordplay and tight controls. Nidhogg 2, on the other hand, is cursed by players already having some idea of how the game is supposed to play and, since it’s a sequel, expecting a bit more. Instead, Nidhogg 2 is this really goofy, gross, cartoon mess. The levels are hyper saturated in color and shadow and detail, but none of it really pops in a positive way. Your character is customizable with different accessories, hair styles and clothing, but every character design looks like it was mutated from an actual human being. It has a Ren and Stimpy vibe to it; not when you see Powdered Toast Man, but when they do those closeup cuts to show how disgusting Ren’s eye sockets are or something like that. Even the worm, when he shows up at the end, is this undulating, puss filled tube sock of a monster. The blood splatters and death giblets are over-the-top, and it didn’t feel bloody for story effect, like how it did in Pixel Shinobi. Especially with the characters being multicolored and their blood to match, it was like trying to balance hyper-violence with a soothe to the censors, “Oh, see, he bleeds pink, that makes it ok.”
Though I must, MUST admit that Nidhogg 2 has an absolutely killer soundtrack. I haven’t heard such solid track pairings in a long time. I actually muted my computer after the first level because I thought the music was coming from a neighbor instead because this was some high fidelity, prime workmanship music. Rather than try and pass itself off with simple bleeps and bloops or make it ambient to accentuate the combat sounds, Nidhogg 2 has crafted a sound all its own with the likes of Mux Mool, Doseone, Daedalus, Geotic and Osborne, all bands I have never heard of and now deeply respect. From the first track to the last, this is some serious everyday music that I suggest blending into your runs and workouts. Even though I didn’t get wrapped up into the game, the soundtrack is on my MP3 player as we speak.
Graphics are definitely not enough to completely condemn a game, especially one with such positive history like Nidhogg. But Nidhogg 2 is straight up, blindingly hideous to behold. You can get used to it, of course, and these graphics clearly appeal to the creators and to the legions of fans who’ve already done this game quite a few positive reviews. After you adjust your views, you’re left with an interesting arcade experience that needs to hook you or it loses its charm pretty quickly. There isn’t enough customization to make the character selection anything more than a weirdness test in violence, and the competition available definitely depends on your region (not a ton of people playing in East Asian time zones right now). My recommendation comes down to the diehards who loved the original. If you’ve been praying for a Nidhogg sequel and don’t mind the grotesque appearance, go for it, you’re gonna love it. If you’re new to the concept, like I was, I’d say either demo and decide or get the original. I’m going to hunt that down this weekend to give it a shot for fun, see if it lives up to the hype I’ve heard before. If there’s any chance that Messhof would consider doing a retro skins package, I would love to try Nidhogg 2 in such a style. But, in the meantime, definitely view the trailer before deciding to dive into this bizarre but intriguing arcade game.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary PC code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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