Local multiplayer games are increasingly rare these days. Some franchises, like Halo and Gears of War, make a conscious effort to include split-screen play in their games to appease fans, while for others, like Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart, couch play is at the absolute heart of the experience. Whether it's the focal point or merely a box to check, however, it's hard to argue that we could use more living room games nowadays.
Nidhogg 2, developed and published by Messhof, serves to fill this niche. A shared-screen experience that pits two sword-wielding fencers against one another, Nidhogg 2 was initially released in 2017 for the PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One before making its way to the Nintendo Switch at the end of 2018.
With its wacky premise and fast-paced action, Nidhogg 2 offers some quick thrills for Switch owners looking for a unique couch play title. Unfortunately, an underwhelming campaign and lackluster online mode make the game a tough recommendation for those looking to play solo. The result is a game that is fun in short bursts alongside a buddy, but isn't nearly as enjoyable in other settings.
Nidhogg 2 revolves around a single, unique premise. You assume the role of a weapon-wielding combatant who, pitted against an equally well-armed opponent, is fighting to the death in a wacky take on jousting and tug of war. Starting at the middle of a 2D level, players are tasked with hacking through their adversary in an effort to push their way towards their respective goal line at the edge of the level.
Players have access to four distinct weapons – rapiers, broadswords, daggers, and bows – each with their own strengths and weaknesses. The broadsword, for instance, offers powerful blows that can break an opponent's guard, but at the cost of speed. Meanwhile, the bow offers unparalleled range, but is of little use at close quarters. The dagger, while lacking in strength and range, is the speediest of the bunch, and the rapier (the weapon featured in the original Nidhogg) is a bit of a jack of all trades.
Jousting meets tug of war really is the best way to describe the game. During any given match, players have access to a small range of attacks and maneuvers. They hold their weapon in one of three stances – low, mid, or high – with the stances available to the player at any given time dependent upon the wielded weapon. Players can also move, jump, duck, and roll, opening up attacks and evasions both in the air and on the ground. As a final flair, players can even toss their armament, giving them a little added reach when trying to deal with an opponent blocking their way.
The differences between the four weapons set up an interesting "rock, paper, scissors" scenario in which certain weapons are better equipped to handle others, and vice versa. By killing an opponent, the player is able to advance further into the enemy's territory, bringing him or her closer to victory (which, in the game world, means being eaten by a hideous flying monstrosity, interpret that as you will).
Of course, however, killing your opponent is not the end, nor does it ensure victory. Levels are large, with three spacious zones on either side of the starting position. When a combatant is killed, he or she respawns after a short period of time, ready to reclaim any territory that might have be lost in the process. This creates a continual feeling of tension, much like a physical game of tug of war, where players are constantly pushing forward and being pushed back, in a mad struggle to scrape together the inches or miles needed to secure the win.
The game is simple in its design, but it works. Matches are frantic, with an exciting victory, or comeback, always a few seconds away. Meanwhile, the limited array of weapons and moves available to the player places a premium on quick thinking and sharp reflexes; expect plenty of scrappy displays of swordplay, where spontaneity and improvisation are kings. Better yet, all the action takes place seamlessly on a single screen – no need for split views, as the game is cleverly designed to always give movement control to the person who just got the most recent kill. In this way, Nidhogg 2 is often a fun, hilarious ballet of sword slinging, blood flinging, and drop kicking.
Yet, while Nidhogg 2's simplicity can be its greatest strength, it also can be its greatest weakness. The game is easy to pick up and play alongside a friend, especially thanks to the added portability of the Nintendo Switch. However, outside of the realm of local play, Nidhogg 2's other modes – the campaign and online multiplayer – lack the necessary features to make it a bona fide triple threat.
The campaign is short, serving as a brief introduction into the gameplay and weapons of Nidhogg 2. Players play through a set gauntlet of the game's multiplayer stages – ten in total – except against an AI opponent and with set items. An early level, for example, may just spawn the player with a rapier, while a later level may cycle through all four of the game's different armaments. It's a good way for newcomers to get their feet wet learning the intricacies of each weapon. However, with no real story to speak of, and little replayability (a single run took me about 40 minutes, with no level select option to replay specific stages), Nidhogg 2's campaign is a disappointing afterthought to the game's multiplayer.
Online multiplayer isn't much better. Whether it's due to a lack of players or simply poor matchmaking, it can be nearly impossible to find a match with another player. There's also no real incentive to win or lose online – don't expect leaderboards or any sort of unlockable cosmetics (there's a basic avatar creator in the game's menu, but that's about it). Add to this the fact that most of Nidhogg 2's appeal comes not from gameplay depth but from the goofiness of playing against friends, playing against a voiceless opponent online simply lacks the same pizzazz.
It's a shame that the single-player and online components of Nidhogg 2 are so underwhelming, because the local multiplayer itself is quite fun. As a party game, the game has a lot to offer, especially when passing the controllers around and playing the game in small doses. While it's not going to pull anybody away from Super Smash Bros. Ultimate or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Nidhogg 2 deserves a place in your lineup of Switch party games, especially at its price tag of 15 bucks.