As the first Nidhogg taught us, less can be more.
The first Nidhogg felt like pure, mechanical genius — a one-on-one, tug-of-war-style duel of wits and reflexes that, despite its simplicity, could carry hours-long sessions of frantic fun and friendly competition.
Nidhogg 2 seems like it has the potential to offer the same kind of experience. It’s structurally identical: two players fight to the death as they try to make a run for their finish line at either end of a multi-screen level. But while the first Nidhogg embraced a graceful minimalism, Nidhogg 2 is going for more: more weapons, more levels, more backdrops, more sound, more color, more detail, and loads more violence.
It’s hard to say what any of this brings to the table early on. In terms of weapons, Nidhogg 2 now spawns you back after each death with different types: sometimes the reliable swiftness of a rapier, sometimes a heaving broad sword, throwing knives, and even a bow. You still do battle using the three-stance approach perfected in the first game, but most of the weapons — despite their different animations and speeds — sort of feel the same.
During the handful of rounds I played, I never found myself getting excited to spawn with a certain type, and was content to just duel away with what was given to me — even if that meant I had to make do with just well-timed dive-kicks after chucking a sword at my opponent’s head. (Which, by the way, is still fun.) As a fan of the first Nidhogg, I look forward to learning more about if and how these new weapons can build out the formula in the long-term, but I didn’t detect a whole lot of change during my demo.
At this point, the most glaring difference is Nidhogg 2’s garish new art style. There’s no denying that a lot of care went into its highly intricate level designs and more animated characters, which now pop with color, detail, and motion. In one level, foamy ocean waves crashed against a cobblestone walkway beneath a rickety wooden dock, adding a pleasing level of visual depth. In another, a huge (kind of terrifying) living tree bounced with glee in the background as my opponent and I slashed each other’s limbs off. On its own, that’s all good and fine, but in the shadow of the first Nidhogg, with its uncomplicated elegance and bold, simple style, Nidhogg 2’s visuals just feel excessive.
That’s especially true when it comes to its characters, who look downright horrifying in their fleshier, less abstract skins: bumbling, naked humanoids constantly wearing ugly, cartoonish grins or grimaces depending on the situation. They also belt out an awful, Wilhelm scream-style shriek when killed, which made them even more unappealing.
In the first Nidhogg, knocking your opponent down and snapping their neck was a brutal, but graceful trick that the game never overindulged. In Nidhogg 2, knocking an opponent down lets you stomp them to death while your character lets out a goofy roar and your enemy explodes into a flurry of limbs, eyeballs, and meaty ribs. In fact, every time your character dies — whether by the low jab of a sword or an arrow to the face — they burst into body parts and soak the ground with their unusually colored blood. Because you were little more than stick figures in the first Nidhogg, there was a level of abstraction to its blood-painted walls and floors that made the violence sleek and stylish. Now, in the grossly detailed world of Nidhogg 2, it just seems boringly gratuitous.
I don’t think I’ll come to love Nidhogg 2’s art style the way I loved that of its predecessor, but its faithfulness to the relatively simple, three-stance dueling and engaging tug-of-war rules of the first game is promising. If its bizarre new visuals will open it up to a wider audience, then I suppose that just means more opponents to keep Nidhogg’s wonderfully compulsive approach to competitive local multiplayer alive.
Chloi Rad is an Associate Editor for IGN. Follow her on Twitter at @_chloi.