The original Niddhogg was best described as something far better than it looked. It looked primitive, like something pulled out of the 70s. But the concept of sword fighting and foot racing turned out to be such a crazy fun idea, it still holds up strongly today. So it's hard to imagine what can be improved on in a sequel.
Still, creator Mark "Messhof" Essen gave a sequel the old college try. Like any other sequel, it offers up the gift of "more." However, that's partly what dooms Nidhogg II, because it was never about "more." It was about making the most out of less. And because of the inevitable progression towards "more," the sequel winds up feeling "less."
For those unfamiliar with the Nidhogg formula, the concept is simple. Kill the opponent to gain momentum and then sprint to the finish line, to ride to glory inside the gullet of a giant worm. The original's frantic pace is fully retained here and it still feels as fun as ever. There are still those moments of fist-pumping in victory or letting out a profane shout just as I get stabbed at the edge of the final screen. It's an insanely entertaining tug-o-war, so it's safe to say the spirit of the original Nidhogg is still firmly in place.
That's when the differences start to set in, because Nidhogg II looks noticeably different. The old-school Atari aesthetic is gone, in favor of a look that harkens closer to the 16-bit era. On the surface, the character models look like an eyesore, but the actual purpose is to allow for some customization. Players can choose how their characters look by swapping out heads, torsos, legs, and accessories. It's a cool idea, but the options feel limited and there's no way to save a favorite layout. The final visual product still veers towards the unsightly side, but the effects that go into the kills and weapon shots are at least more visually appealing. It ends up like watching claymation figures fight each other.
The visual overhaul also extends to the game's numerous maps. Some of them, like the Beach and Wilds, feature some gorgeous renderings of outdoor environments. Some of the stages are even visually upgraded versions of the original. The trouble is, sometimes the environments get a little too animated and make it tougher to focus on what's what. That last screen on the upgraded Castle stage looks cool, with a drawbridge covered in 16-bit flames, but it's a little too busy to maintain focus on who to kill or even where to jump.
The formula looks to evolve by packing in some new weapons. The original swords are still there, but players will now randomly spawn in with other instruments of death, like a bow and arrow and a dagger. This adds an element of RNG to the mix, because the weapons don't feel particularly balanced. The dagger, for example, is weak, while the two-handed broad sword is a powerful (albeit slower) piece of work. Sometimes, scoring a kill feels less because I was a skilled player that knew how to wield a sword and more like I got a lucky shot in or I had the better weapon.
In a series that feels minimalistic at its core, Nidhogg II's biggest improvement winds up being an unheralded feature. Netplay in the original was a total mess. Things feel far more stable this time around, even if the actual online menu still feels bare bones. Strong online play at launch was one of the original game's biggest failings, but that's not the case this time around. Offline play remains Nidhogg's biggest strong suit, though, with solid 1v1 and Tournament modes in place, especially with options to make the weapon spawns less random.
Nidhogg II is a case where bigger isn't always better. It's like trying to improve on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Sure, it's possible to add things to it, but the PB&J isn't something that really needs improving. That's how I felt coming away from Nidhogg II. It's a good attempt at improving on the original, but the end result didn't leave me feeling the same magic that I did when playing the first game. But with that aside, for those looking for chaotic dueling action, it's hard to argue with either Nidhogg game.
This review was based on a PS4 digital download purchased by the reviewer. Nidhogg II is available now on PC and PlayStation 4 for $14.99.
- Same amazing Nidhogg gameplay
- Many environments feel lovingly rendered and look great
- Animations can be hilarious
- Netplay vastly improved over the original game
- Art style is an acquired taste, at best
- Different weapons introduce some unwanted RNG
- Backgrounds can be a little too busy
Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Nidhogg 2 review: Duel Monsters
I'm enjoying it. It's different from the first game in a lot of ways, and it's not just about the look.
I really enjoy the variety that the dagger / rapier / longsword / bow add to the game to shake things up. When you spawn with a bow inches from a guy with a longsword you know you're going to have a bad time. The fact that the dagger and arrows can fly places a thrown sword can't reach has led to some shouting in my house. haha
The levels are decent for the most part, but I do have to admit to hating some of them. Castle is still my favorite so far, but Club is just terrible.
The music is a serious downgrade. It's way too repetitive and I miss the strange music of the first game. Most Amiga games had better music. Luckily the PS4 supports Spotify playing in the background -- I'll have to build a Nidhogg 2 playlist to listen to while playing the game.
I do wish there was a way to simplify the main characters, or some non-dumb clothing choices. Every one of the options looks dumb in its own way. I'm not exactly sure what the makers of the game were going for, but it's kind of nutty how bad the characters look. :P
All in all, I see us playing Nidhogg 2 here for a long time.
i picked this up last night and played a bit. so far i love it. the additional weapons really open up the gameplay. i can't speak to the quality of all the new levels yet, but just having more quantity helps provide some variety.
the character design and overall art style is puzzling. it's fine and has a certain silly charm, but it's so far from the elegant simplicity of the first game. the whole feel has gone from an elegant but brutal fencing match to a brawl of cartoon violence. I can live with the new feel but i preferred the old one.