Nidhogg review: En Garde!

Nidhogg is a fun and simple fencing game that's sure to get your competitive juices flowing, despite an unstable netcode leading to a slew of online issues.


Combat has become so brutish. Fighting with fists or guns is so uncivilized. Nidhogg understands what it means to settle disputes in gentlemanly fashion: by running each other through with swords until someone bleeds out pixels. That's the idea in Messhof's arcade-style competitive fencing platformer. Despite some technical hiccups, the concept proves fiendishly clever and amazingly fun.

Games begin with two players in the center of an arena, decorated with unapologetically retro Atari 2600-style graphics. The idea is to go on the offensive by killing off your opponent and running all the way to the other side of the arena, where a giant flying worm will swallow you victoriously.

Nidhogg sessions involve a lot of fun back-and-forth. Players must switch stances on the fly, leading to intense showdowns. Once an opponent is dispatched, the game turns into a game of cat-and-mouse, as the defensive player must scramble to catch the opponent before he can run off. Players must exercise different strategies, like knowing when to scroll yourself away in order to respawn in front of the offensive player. All of the action is fast-paced, yet each round can last a fair amount of time.

I found a major issue with Training mode, as a bug would kick me out to the main menu almost immediately. That'll likely be an early impediment to new players, but learning on-the-go by jumping into single-player turns out to be fairly simple. The single-player mode is a good way to learn, though it turns out to run a bit longer than necessary and you'll quickly find yourself repeating stages against the same AI opponents.

The area where Nidhogg shines is local multiplayer. Grabbing a friend and an extra gamepad can lead to some dynamite matches, often accompanied by a healthy amount of trash talk. Strategically-placed pits, well-positioned doors, and random moves like the sword toss lead to some good laughs and the aforementioned momentum swings really brings out the competitive fire in two buddies. There's even the potential for party play, with a Tournament option available for more than two people.

Nidhogg's fun is somewhat tempered by a number of technical issues. The game menu system is about as crude as the rest of the game and navigating any of them can be a bit cumbersome. The online lobby feels particularly unfriendly, especially when a game hangs while trying to find an opponent. One other thing that stands out to me is that the game doesn't have any resolution options to speak of. This is the type of game that I'd love to be able to multitask with, but there's no chance to play it in windowed mode at all. It's not a horrible omission, but an odd one that I felt was worth mentioning.

The more bothersome issues involve online multiplayer. Just as with the rest of the menus, the lobby is bare bones and finding a public match can be an excruciatingly long process. Worse yet, online play suffers from severe lag issues. Given how timing-sensitive Nidhogg is, lag really hurts the overall expereince. I often found myself rubber-banding from a jump to suddenly hanging precariously off a cliff. Or I would toss my sword, only to find it right back in my hand a second later. While the game was playable, it wasn't nearly as fun.

Nidhogg is a simple and enjoyable package, only marred by an unstable netcode, a limited stage selection, and all-too-simple options. Messhof's latest is a good way to get the competitive juices flowing and the retro aesthetic is a novelty in a multiplayer world dominated by Unreal Engine-built games. It's a simple formula that's executed as well as a poker through a pixelized abdomen. [7]

This review is based on a PC copy purchased by the reviewer. Nidhogg is now available digitally for PC for $14.99. The game is unrated.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

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From The Chatty
  • reply
    January 14, 2014 3:00 PM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Nidhogg review: En Garde!.

    Nidhogg is a fun and simple fencing game that's sure to get your competitive juices flowing, despite an unstable netcode leading to a slew of online issues.

    • reply
      January 14, 2014 3:03 PM

      How would you multitask whilst playing Nidhogg? I get the sense that there isn't a lot of "down time" where you could be tabbed into another window?

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        January 14, 2014 3:05 PM

        Getting connected to an online game takes a good while. Or whenever I'm in-between games in the main menu or something.

        It's a really minor complaint, but the lack of any sort of resolution options is just a bit strange to me.

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      January 14, 2014 3:25 PM

      Too bad about the online issues and lag, game looks like a lot of fun but I probably wouldn't play much offline.

      I wish all these competitive small scale 2D indie games could use something like the GGPO netcode implementation. Probably impossible for most of these devs to do that themselves but man it would be awesome.

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        January 14, 2014 5:38 PM


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          January 14, 2014 5:49 PM


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          January 14, 2014 5:49 PM

          It's how fighting games can work over the internet.

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          January 14, 2014 6:02 PM

          It's zero perceived lag netcode, mostly for frame perfect fighting games but it also works with most any multiplayer emulated arcade game via the client:

          A few recent releases like Skullgirls, SF3: 3rd Strike Online and Divekick have used it

          It's probably impossible to translate that to these indie games directly, but it would be great if they could do a similar style prediction and rollback for their netcode to keep things as tight and right as those GGPO games feel online. I don't claim to believe it's even possible, just would be amazing if something like it were.

          More details:

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            January 14, 2014 6:18 PM

            Really, though.. I just want to live in a magical world where we can play stuff like Nidhogg, Samurai Gunn, and all the Sports Friends games (Hokra, Super Pole Riders, etc) and more online and as lag free as possible like any arcade style game through GGPO.

            I have to give the Nidhogg team credit for actually trying online multiplayer even if it is broken and laggy. Most of these games are strictly local mp only because it's far easier for a small team of developers. And usually more fun with a group of people playing together on a couch anyway. I hope they can at least fix Nidhogg a bit in the future.

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              January 14, 2014 6:34 PM

              The magical world I want to live in is the one where impromptu local multiplayer games are common :(

              In lieu of that though, GGPO support would be the next best thing.

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                January 14, 2014 6:39 PM

                That would be great too!

                But like any multiplayer game, I'd still prefer to be able to fire it up whenever I'm in the mood and not be reliant on my group of friends who are terrible at games like these and would rage quit forever after a few losses. Before they can even learn the basics! I've pretty much given up on the local multiplayer sessions for competitive games with these people, even simple two button ones like this. Online or bust :(

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            January 14, 2014 6:42 PM

            Ah cool. Thanks!

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          January 14, 2014 6:44 PM

          Great Gazoonkas: Post-Op

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        January 14, 2014 7:52 PM

        I,m pretty sure the dev stated he used GGPO

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      January 14, 2014 5:13 PM

      I don't see the graphics as cute or quaint or quirky...just fugly. Too bad, it might have been fun if I wasn't busy trying to stem the bleeding from my eyes while playing it...

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        January 14, 2014 5:35 PM

        Sucks to be you then, playing the parody of this game, Eggnogg, with my brother over christmas made me feel like I was 10 again and Nidhogg plays even better in general.

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        January 15, 2014 12:55 AM

        It must suck to be so superficial when it comes to games. High res textures or 3D graphics would not improve the gameplay here in the slightest. It may be quaint to you because it evokes the 4-bit atari style but the animation is still impressive and nothing appears to be lost when it's in motion. It's such a stripped down experience that higher details would be at odds with the action. It looks damn near perfect to me for a two button arcade style competitive game.\

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      January 14, 2014 5:43 PM

      On my steam wishlist. Giantbomb quick look made it look like a hoot.

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      January 14, 2014 7:27 PM

      Let's go, bro! Mano y mano. I kill you.

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      January 14, 2014 9:58 PM

      Played a bunch with my friend tonight. Got a little old with only 4 maps. Could be fun with the variants and tournament mode.

      Didn't notice any huge lag. has the saved vid.

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