Nidhogg II

A game by Messhof for PC, Mac, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One, originally released in 2017.
In 2014, a quirky indie game entitled Nidhogg was released. Originally conceived as a prototype called Raging Hadron in 2010 (a play on words suggestive of the game’s aggressive sword-based combat), the game was further expanded upon with new features, arenas, and online play. The game features a pair of simple-looking single-color swordsmen – barely more than stick figures – fighting one another in a confined environment, and the fighters are able to use their swords to slash and parry, with a successful strike resulting in an instant kill and a spray of pixelated blood.

In addition, players are able to jump, slide along the ground, or risk it all by throwing their swords across the screen in hopes of taking down their opponents, possibly resulting in fisticuffs when both players are disarmed… or an easy kill for the player who is still holding a weapon. The defeated opponent respawns after a few seconds, and the player’s goal is to reach the opposite side of the screen as quickly as possible between sparring sessions.

Gameplay in Nidhogg II is essentially an expansion of these concepts, retaining the core gameplay while offering new weapons, customizable characters, and substantially more detailed environments. Nidhogg gets its name from a serpent of ancient Norse myth which eats away at Yggdrasil, and the titular “wurm” returns for the sequel. It is once again your task to prove yourself worthy of being sacrificed to the beast, and reaching the end of each level results in you being swallowed up by the creature.

Gone are the stick figures and simple backgrounds, replaced by the detailed, grotesque, and occasionally cheerful artwork of Toby Dixon. Characters now appear as bulbous sinewy googley-eyed freaks with garish skin tones, and the player is able to customize his avatar’s skin color, hair, body, legs, and various accessories. The game’s 10 themed environments are detailed, colorful, and widely varied, and they are sometimes filled with bulging corpses or other dark themes, contrasted with a few bright and cheerful environments that would not be out of place in a 16-bit mascot platformer.

The goal of the game is the same… kill your enemy quickly, and then dash toward the right side of the screen in the brief moments before he respawns, and then kill him again. You need to clear three screens in succession in order to beat the level, but your enemy is attempting to do the same. If you are killed, your enemy can advance to the left while you await your respawn… and if he gains enough ground, he can move three screens to the left and achieve victory himself.

You can even run past many opponents without fighting them, but only if you have the advantage. Whomever is victorious in combat earns an arrow that faces toward the direction of his goal, and the screen scrolling follows that player’s movements. Fall in combat, and your opponent can run to the left until you stop him, and if you try to run to the right, you’ll simply be scrolled off the screen and respawn ahead of your enemy. It is possible for opponents to kill each other at the same time, at which point, gameplay becomes locked on a single screen until someone is victorious, and this is how each level starts as well.

With the game’s fast pace and instant kills, it’s easy to gain a lot of ground in a short time, and lose it just as quickly. Misjudging your enemy’s tactics or mistiming an attack can result in your quick and bloody demise. It’s possible to be killed multiple times in under 30 seconds, sacrificing all of your progress to that point, and possibly finding yourself further behind. Effective players can blast to the end of the level in a matter of seconds, while others will find the balance of power constantly seesawing back and forth as they gain and lose ground.

As before, players can alternate between high, medium, and low strikes, allowing them to parry incoming attacks, block thrown weapons, deflect arrows, and even disarm opponents, providing a surprising amount of combat strategy given the simple control scheme. Players can also slide along the ground, jump and dive kick (which is great for disarming opponents), throw their swords across the screen, and use their fists when disarmed, eventually knocking their enemies to the ground and smashing them into bloody pulps beneath their feet.

The game begins with each character using fencing foils as in the original game, but new weapons are introduced in the form of a dagger and a bow and arrows, the former of which offers a considerably shorter range, while the latter allows for strikes at a distance, balanced by slow reload times and ineffective close-range combat. There is also a broadsword that allows for wide, heavy strikes. Once each weapon is introduced, you – and your enemies – are spawned wielding a random weapon, requiring rapid strategy adjustments as the balance of power shifts every few seconds. Of course, given the amount of death, there are often other weapons lying on the ground, so you can toss away your weapon and pick up another.

In addition to the single player campaign, players can take each other on in one-on-one combat, or set up 8P tournaments, and players can set options to enable and disable weapons of their choosing. Local group competitions are really how the game was meant to be enjoyed (as was the case with the original), as the fast gameplay, quick deaths, and focus on combat strategy lend themselves to the usual laughing, screaming, and cursing of public gaming.

Nidhogg II was developed by Messhof. Game design and art direction are credited to Mark Essen, art and animation were done by Toby Dixon, and music was composed by a number of artists, including Mux Mool, Geotic, Doseone, Osborne, and Daedelus. Messhof previously developed the original Nidhogg, as well as Flywrench.