Nidhogg (1)

Genre: Fighting
Year: 2014
Developed by: Messhof
Published by: Messhof
Platforms: Windows, OS X, PS4, Vita
#406
Feeling Like: Good fencing makes good neighbors

I’m absolutely positive that historians would disagree, but no weapon is more iconic in our history than the sword. I’m aware the invention of gunpowder changed the world, I am all too aware that nuclear bombs have the power to erase that world, but there’s something incredibly…I don’t know, can I describe an instrument as pure?

It’s only as good as the wielder. There isn’t a cheat code. There’s no point and click. No fast track to becoming good at using it, only years of practice and patience will yield a true master. Its impact is both double-edged literally and metaphorically. Those who were born by it, died by it and, when it comes to fiction, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Fair warning, this listing will be mostly about movies; Nidhogg would be nothing without the inspiration of the silver screen. All the great swashbuckling adventures have at least one sword fight that you’ll never get tired of watching. Never mind that I don’t know the first thing about how to swing or stab or swipe properly, I know entertainment.

And there isn’t anything that can stand up to a great, one on one duel. You owe it to yourself to familiarize yourself with these scenes, if not the entire movies.

How about the final duel in Rob Roy? 

Or this absolute classic, from the Mark of Zorro?

One of my favorites, Yu Shu Lien vs. Jiao Long in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

There are endless examples of impeccable, peerless clashes: Hector vs. Achilles in Troy, Inigo Montoya vs. the Dread Pirate Roberts in the Princess Bride, the rapier scene from the Duelists to name but a few. You all have your favorites. Why are we drawn to watching two people wave pointy pieces of metal at each other?

Because it’s a dance, one we lack the courage to ask a partner if they’d like to join. The choreography, direction, acting and skill involved in staging is of the ultimate in performance production. Even as viewers hiding beyond a screen, we can smell a fake from a mile away. Quick, erratic cuts or a rushed camera means they shouldn’t have had the scene in the first place.

Nidhogg, at times, is as thrilling as the scenes I’ve described. Almost more so, since you’re finally involved.

Now, I will warn you, it doesn’t have the secret ingredient for a perfect fight scene. It doesn’t have any character whatsoever. To be fully invested, you have to care. The stakes have to be beyond important; the thought of your protagonist losing makes you sick to your stomach. You cannot bear the thought of them losing.

Nidhogg gets a pass here, since that’s not what Messhof was going for. But I still haven’t played a game that accurately encapsulates the rush of a tense sword fight better.

It also looks like a Commodore 64 game.

Nidhogg (3)
That 1940 Zorro movie looked better

But that’s not the point, pardon the pun.

It’s a brilliant setup; a fast-paced, two player fight in a side scrolling environment. Killing your opponent once won’t be enough (this is a video game, after all). Once the coup de grace has been landed, you have mere seconds to advance your position before your previously dead adversary revives, and the fight continues. Think rugby meets fencing.

It’s a mesmerizing, addictive mechanic. Forgiving, in that if you die once or twice, you’ll still have ample opportunity to get back in the willing column. Unforgiving, in that a better player will always beat a weaker player. You can raise your sword to three different heights, sprint, fist fight, run, jump, kick slide and, in an act of desperation, hurl your weapon like a missile.

Just like in the movies, length of the duel is never completely correlated with quality. Sometimes you’ll have a drawn out section, where neither party wants to be too violent. Or, you can have a brilliant back and forth contest, counter meets counter, parry meets thrust and the winning move comes out of nowhere. In Nidhogg, every action you make matters and you’ll quickly build up the fight in your mind far bigger than it looks on screen.

Nidhogg (2)
Doesn’t look any better close-up

I only played a few multiplayer matches, but I found my enjoyment heavily relied on how good my opponent was. It’s absolutely crucial you find somebody of equitable skill, otherwise you’ll completely miss out on what I perceive to be one of the most satisfying battle systems in a 2D action game.

The controls aren’t for everybody, and I will admit that my playtime with Nidhogg shouldn’t have yielded such a positive review, but what can I say? From the quick taps of introduction, to the impossibly fast arcs of steel, the matchup of two fighters at their peak skill is something I’ll never get tired of. I love a duel.

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