The Party Fighter I Couldn’t Put Down
When I was in elementary school, my friends and I played Super Smash Bros in my basement afterschool. What made the game fun wasn’t the campaign or the vast array of characters to choose from. Instead, it was fierce competition among friends. It was jumping in the air after one of us got a lucky smash attack on the other, sending them flying to the distant horizon.
Nidhogg brings all of that back.
Sure, they still make Smash Bros. And who doesn’t love to play Mortal Kombat with their friends? But so often now, games are largely focused on single player. Fallout 4, Undertale, the Arkham series. The games with multiplayer are usually heavily focused on the online aspect. Call of Duty, League of Legends, and CSGO. Almost all of these games involve players sitting in their underwear in a room by themselves.
Nidhogg is a brilliantly 2D fighting game. Two different colored stickmen wielding swords face off, one trying to travel to the right, the other to the left. In order to progress, one player must kill the other in a bright flash of pixelated stick man gore. After this, they must do everything in their power to run to their respective end. They can jump over, knock down, or kill their opponent. The only way to stop them is to kill them, at which point the other player goes on the offensive. In this sense, it is much more like playing an NFL game then playing a traditional fighting game. Upon reaching the end, the victorious Nidhogg fighter is sacrificed to the Nidhogg, a great flying worm like creature.
The game was made by Mark “Messhof” Essen. Based out of L.A., he has developed several pixelated indie games. According to his website, he develops his games to look retro, but to “play like the most advanced games out there.” He started work on Nidhogg in 2010 for New York University Game Center’s first No Quarter and finished in late 2014. He was inspired by games like Bushido Blade where getting your opponent to make the first move then punishing them for it is the key to victory. He said in an interview that his goal was “to make Nidhogg the most fun game for [him] to with [his] friends.”
Nidhogg is deceptively simple. Unlike other fighters like Street Fighter that require players to understand combos and rolls, Nidhogg’s controls can be learned in about 15 seconds. There is no tutorial, no practice mode. Moving the joystick left and right well make the fighter run that direction. Pressing it up or down will make him move his sword up or down. The attack button attacks, the jump button jumps. However, this incredibly simple control scheme still has room for advanced techniques. Moving your sword up or down into your opponents will disarm them. Jumping and then attacking will perform a flying kick from above that can knock down your enemy, disarming them and allowing you to either break their neck or simply run towards your objective. All of this is intuitive. Simply playing a single game is ample time to learn many of the nuances.
That simplicity is why this game is so good to play with friends. The other night, several people were hanging out in my dorm. I simply turned on this game and threw out two controllers and watched as everyone crowded around my TV as two people who had never played the game before stabbed, jumped, and ran back and forth across the screen. We started up an eight man tournament, and each and every battle was hard fought. By time the final victor jumped into the Nidhogg’s jaws, everyone was pumped up and ready to play another tournament.
Nidhogg isn’t perfect. The single player is lackluster and the replayability is low. This isn’t the game for the hardcore gamer who wants to master a game, pouring hundreds even thousands of hours in. Nidhogg is about offering a room full of people something to sink their competitive teeth into. It’s about back and forth action and last minute plays. People who have played a month only have a sleight advantage over someone who has played for an hour. This game is clean. The combat is balanced, and landing hits is incredibly satisfying. Kills feel fair, and even fast matches feel satisfying. When it comes to being eaten by the Nidhogg, it’s a friend kill friend world. And that’s the way we like it.