It sounds simple enough; with minimal inputs on the keyboard – simply adjusting your stance higher and lower with arrow keys alongside move, stab, duck and jump buttons – the onus is not on what you’re pressing but pressing it at precisely the right time to gain the upper hand on your opponent.
But the difficulty isn’t in explaining the fundamentals, but in conveying how Nidhogg is one of the most balanced and compulsive multiplayer experiences in recent memory. The rules are thus: defeat your enemy in combat and dash towards their end of the screen. However, you’ll only gain a few metres of ground at a time as opponents reappear a few seconds after death all the way until you reach the victory screen at the end of each stage.
While there is a single-player mode, it’s more of a tutorial. An arcade-style gauntlet of colourful AI adversaries, it serves as a decent trial of skill as you spray pixelated blood across each of the four stages. However, in multiplayer (either local – sharing a keyboard – or online) the game transforms completely. What occurs is a tension-filled choreography of balletic moves that rarely breaks for breath. You’ll throw your sword, which your enemy will deflect before throwing theirs, you perform a divekick that commences a fistfight, before you both roll backwards to reclaim your blades and start the dance once more. There’s a nuance to the combat that galvanises each match, as you edge forward to gain more ground, before being sent reeling back two screens.
But more importantly, it does what all great multiplayer games do in offering a social experience. The type that elicits gasps, cheers and expletives as players bounce across the screen trying to best their adversary. Matches can be over in 30 seconds or they can take place over 30 minutes in a tiring war of attrition.
And while there are a limited number of stages, each contains their own hazards that have to be taken into consideration during battle. A cloud-based arena could have dissolvable platforms, while a level with a conveyer belt can push players towards a pit – each adds another dynamic layer to the game’s addictive formula.
It’s a small package but there’s a wealth of value to be found in the creative gameplay that’ll spur you through many hours of gaming.