Nidhogg 2 isn’t just a “sequel” but rather a better-realized successor that aims to capitalize on everything that its predecessor great, and then some.
2014’s Nidhogg was such a precise, “complete”, and to-the-point title that perhaps there was no other proper way to follow it up other than releasing some DLC levels, which from the state of Nidhogg 2, is quite clear would have been too low of an ambition for developer Mark Essen, better known as Messhoff.
So, what returns here is the awesome, dueling gameplay and the same premise for how the duels work: two rather acrobatic fencers face off in a battle of reflexes and fast wit, with the victor, who delivers the one-hit mortal stab to their opponent, granted permission to run and progress to the next room/screen, defending their lead until their respawned opponent gains it back in another skirmish.
The first opponent with the lead, who can run to the last screen assigned to their side (think like soccer), wins, which amounts to being eaten as a sacrifice to the great Norse serpent, Níðhöggr (a.k.a. “Nidhogg”).
You also have a few new weapons outside of the standard rapiers. These weapons are randomly assigned to the player in certain arenas (of which there are 10 this time around), to spice up the duels. These weapons include a broadsword that can be swung around, a short-range dagger, and bow and arrows which can be deflected back to the shooter.
Ultimately, the rapier remains the best, most useful weapon; the new weapons serve mostly as a distraction. Plus, you can still perform dive kicks and fight with your fists if you find yourself disarmed, so that works too.
If you loved the gameplay in Nidhogg 1, you will love it here; best played against a human player, preferably on the couch next to you, though the computer AI is a lot better this time around. Online play returns, as well.
But what of the music you’ll be murdering to? Well, it doesn’t exactly fit the bill.
Unlike the adrenaline pumping, ear-pleasing BGM of the original, here we have music that is usually a lot “chiller”. The concept of having serene music to fit a violent landscape isn’t the issue, but rather the execution of it. The style of the music simply doesn’t mesh with the game’s art. It’s extremely out of place, and one does not compliment the other.
Speaking of which, perhaps the most prominent aspect of Nidhogg 2 is its art direction.
As Messhoff put it, if the first Nidhogg’s aesthetic could be described as minimalism, then Nidhogg 2’s approach is something akin to “maximalism”.
It’s a goopy, overbearing, over-the-top injection of just everything, paying homage to the sensibilities of the Sega Genesis era, reminiscent especially of games such as Boogerman and Mutant League Hockey.
Characters are somewhat off-putting and downright disgusting, and I mean that in the best possible way. Part meat bags, part barely-solidified, coagulated Monster Blood, with a dash of Claymation thrown in, the characters could very well be toy tie-ins to some forgotten 90s cartoon show.
Environments share the same properties but display a kind of attention to detail that is often not seen in games of this type. Within the gross frame of the game, aspects of stage backgrounds are downright pretty to look it.
It’s just really refreshing to see such a bold, specific, anomalous art style in the sea of same-ish indie games, visually speaking
Unfortunately, this can all be distracting. Since there’s so much going at any given time, it’s like a flood of constant visual feedback, working against Nidhogg 2’s fast, reflex-oriented playstyle. The first Nidhogg didn’t have this problem, and as a result, I’d say that at times it feels as if though Nidhogg 2’s core gameplay is less “pure” compared to its predecessor.
So, where does that leave us?
Well, Nidhogg 2 has its flaws and loses some of the preciseness of the first game, but it’s also what is possibly the best attempt at continuing what was started back in 2014 with an incredible new art style, retaining everything that works and offering new stages and a few new ways to kill your opponent.
At the end of the day, with the right company, it can be a whole lot of fun in a way not that many two-player games are offering these days.