Nidhogg is a game about fencing. No, it’s not a garden fence sim (although how cool would that be?!) or a sim where you try to pass on stolen goods. It’s the kind of fencing that involves a pointy sword and multiple deaths, and I declare it hilarious. Get ready for the funniest fight of your life.
The game may look like something that crawled through a time tunnel, but those understated retro graphics hide the sort of precise mechanics your Spectrum never would have managed. Edge side-to-side with the left stick and press square to attack with your sword. Move the left stick up and down to parry your opponent’s attack and hopefully disarm them. When you have an opening, stab them, stop for a moment to watch the pretty blood spurt, and then for God’s sake run. Nidhogg is a deadly game of tug-of-war. When you’ve slaughtered the other player you will be given the advantage. Your job then is to run past his puddle of a body and past several more screens to make it to the adoring crowd, the man-eating Nidhogg and the finish line. But wait, it isn’t that simple. Once your opponent has been poked in the eye and made dead, he will respawn right in your path on the next screen. Getting through to the final screen is a back-and-forth battle, both of you gaining and losing the advantage sometimes within seconds. A single match can last an inordinate amount of time or it will be over before you can thrust out your sword and shout ‘EN GUAR -!’
I started with the single player option and found Nidhogg to be rather enjoyable but nothing particularly special, but by the evening I’d moved on to multiplayer, and that changed everything. As Scooby Doo would say, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy. Single player, really, is for practicing your moves. Multiplayer, with a friend sitting next to you or a PSN mate and Party Chat, is an invitation to die laughing. I hooked up with a PSN friend, NorthlanderGT, and together we had the most side-splitting evening imaginable.
The hilarity comes from the ease of dying and losing the advantage. The two of us were dizzy running back and forth, back and forth, back and … down a hole. While the game is obviously competitive and proper tricky, it’s not even slightly frustrating. The constant and perpetual death is funny. The agonised screams from your poor little man is comical. Desperately running away from your opponent, your little legs going like the clappers, is hilarious. I lost count of how many times NorthlanderGT lobbed his sword at my head and I tried and failed to outrun it.
When you do succumb to the sword your blood will spray from your body and coat the ground beneath your feet. You will have different coloured blood according to your character colour, and any epic fights will be evident from the multi-coloured streaks of paint coating the full length of the screen.
Nidhogg is all about back to basics competitive gaming. It reminded me so much of the tank game in the Atari 2600’s Combat. Okay, totally different gameplay, no swords, completely different graphics. So nothing like Combat at all, but the spirit is the same. It’s old-fashioned gaming stripped right back. It’s gaming with a friend just for a laugh and nothing else. It’s the overwhelming joy of blowing up your grandmother with a tank, laughing in her face and one minute later getting a revenge shot in the backside. It’s exactly the same delight as jabbing your friend in the unmentionables and five seconds later getting disarmed and thoroughly skewered. You will point and laugh when your friend commits accidental suicide and then curse when you fall off the exact same edge just seconds later. Disarmed and helpless? Discover the roll move and the sweeping kick. My opponent worked these moves out way before me and we both laughed our arses off as he beat me to death over and over again. Both lost your swords? It can only mean handbags at dawn (except without the handbags, although I do think that’s a good idea for a DLC). In other words, cheerfully beat each other into a bloody puddle without the aid of a blade. Why is it all so funny? I haven’t got a clue. Why are the Two Ronnies funny? They just are.
Nidhogg is a crossbuy game, and I can confirm it both runs perfectly and looks great on PS4 and PS Vita. I encountered no problems in the offline or online modes. Graphically, it is very basic, but I ask you to see beyond that. Those of us old enough to have played and loved games like Combat, Surround (trap your friend’s ever-growing snake with your ever-growing snake) and Oink (I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your best friend’s house down) will be drawn in, but for those of you thinking Nidhogg looks suspiciously naff, let me tell you it ain’t. Grab a friend or a grandmother, poke them somewhere vulnerable and leg it. It’s simple, old-fashioned fun with a bonus giant worm. What more do you people want?
Forget the single player mode, Nidhogg will give you the funniest multiplayer experience of your life. Don’t let the simplistic graphics put you off. This is a quality game that relies on precision mechanics and the lure of the old-fashioned two-player showdown. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, stock up on those gaming snacks and stab your best friend in the neck. Nidhogg has thoroughly earned its place in the PlayStation collection.
SJ Hollis Rating – 8/10