[Disclosure: A review copy was provided for the contents of this article]
Does anyone remember a ZX Spectrum game called Barbarian? I do. In Barbarian, players moved from the left side of a screen to the right (mostly) taking out bad guys using a groundbreaking control scheme which enabled a sword and shield to be held at low, medium and high levels to create complex battles. Nidhogg 2 (I’ve never played the first) is basically the same, but revamped, enhanced and soaked in multicoloured gore to satisfy a much more bloodthirsty audience.
My first playthrough of the game was done in thirty three minutes. My second took twenty five, and my third? Just twenty minutes. Nidhogg 2 is a game about killing, but it’s also a game about killing quickly and efficiently, and about knowing when to run. Every level comprises of seven screens, each of which scrolls left or right for about ten or fifteen seconds if you run at it flat out. There are only two characters in each level – you, and your enemy. Each of these combatants must kill each other to gain momentum (indicated by an arrow pointing one way or the other) and then reach the end of the screen, which loads the next.
The aim of the game in Nidhogg 2 then, is to kill your enemy quickly, run past their oozing corpse as fast as you can and then do it again. If they kill you, they’ll regain ground, and so this brutal tug of war usually continues (between human players) until one of the players fingers drops off. When playing against the computer, it is simply a frantic race to kill the bad guy and spring to the finish. My time of twenty minutes? Rubbish. The current fastest completion time on the PS4 is just over twelve minutes.
Much as in Barbarian, players in Nidhogg 2 can hold their weapons at low, medium or high levels, and there are a few variations such as a bow, or a large cutlass that is held only high or low (but can disarm enemies with the right swing.) Weapons can also be thrown, but doing so is risky because it leaves you open to a counter attack that you won’t be able to easily defend. Unlike in Barbarian, there is no shield in Nidhogg 2, and this is a game all about fast, stylish kills, rather than drawn out battles with lots of defensive play. A flying kick and a dodge roll finish off a simple, effective moveset that ensures Nidhogg 2 has crisp, memorable play style which is deceptively simple at first, but which is incredibly hard to master once you see what human opponents are doing online.
The graphics are excellent, feature blocky pixel art that is superbly animated, and a unique and disgusting take on dismemberment and death by skewing, ground and pound, and decapitation (among others.) Multicolored blood and exploding body parts erupt on screen regularly, and blood trails ooze over the edge of the two-dimensional platforms. It’s highly stylised, tongue-in-cheek violence, but nonetheless, it is visceral, bloody and brutal. This suits Nidhogg 2 though, and this is a game that celebrates victory by having the winning player eaten by a giant worm – it doesn’t need to make sense, it’s just part of the charm.
Over in all of thirty minutes or less, with no collectibles and not much by way of additional content, you might think Nidhogg 2 was a bit of waste of money, but it actually has limitless replayability both on and offline, as long as you are the kind of player that always strives for perfection. Your fastest time can always be improved if you can just get a little bit better, and you can do that by playing just one more fight against a human opponent. Nidhogg 2 is a great distraction and time filler, but the violence means that it can’t be for everyone. If you like the sound of it, then you should at least: