I managed to get my hand on Nidhogg (no, you can’t have it), and have sat down with it a few times with a number of friends. As I’ve said many times on this blog, I am a rather competitive gamer. Not the most competitive, or the most skilled, but familiar enough with the process of breaking games down to know where to start. With that in mind, I set out to push the limits of the game and see if it would break. So far, it has not (which I am glad) but many things have been discovered. I’m not sure how much of Messhof’s design was intentional and how much of it is sheerly emergent, but the game is somewhat interesting despite its simple systems.
Nidhogg is currently an unreleased 1v1 combat game styled after Prince of Persia and Karateka and with a mix of atari and psychedelic graphics. That should all be apparent from the trailer. The goal of the game is to push along a mirrored castle to get to the ‘win screen’. The win screen being a crowd who cheers for you as you are eaten by the dragon, Nidhogg. The castle contains 3 unique rooms (with the mirroring, that equals 5 screens), each with its own features. For the most part, the maps are flat, containing mirror instances of a hump, 3 holes and a few low ceilings which impede jumping. I’d be interested in a few slopes, but for the most part, the whole arena feels fine. I think I would enjoy a few more arena choices, but for an unreleased game, this is enough. The last player to make a kill has moving priority (the defender can’t change screens) and after a set period of time, the defender respawns after dying.
The game it’s self uses two buttons, Attack and Jump. Jump behaves as you’d expect. The state its self is pretty vulnerable, but you do at least have perfect air control when you’re up there. The only action you have access to in the air is a sword throw, which I will speak about shortly. Attack causes you to do a lunging strike, that extends your sword out and moves you forward a few pixels. Swords are always capable of killing, but the lunge allows you to actually reach your opponent without getting yourself killed. Any non-sword part of the player is a valid space for collision (There is no square ‘hit box’ or anything as you’d see in a fighter). There are 3 stances, which all function identically in theory. In fact, they are less ‘stances’ and more sword positions — high, medium and low – which are used to get your sword out of the way of your opponent’s sword so you can actually stab them. If you attack when both swords are on the same position, they merely bounce back. Due to the collision method, the low position has more ‘range’ than the top position. As far as I can tell, all attacks are the same, but the enemy’s sprite and animation alway has a leg farther out than any other position. Broadly speaking, the lower your stance, the more range. Stances are controlled by up and down. If you shift your sword into the way of an oncoming attack, you can disarm your opponent. If you don’t come down upon enough of his sword, you’ll only bounce. If you’re close enough, parry often results in an automatic kill (though most parries result in a kill anyways). Moving is done with left and right. Tapping gives little fencer-ish steps forward and back, while holding it results in a run. Pressing down in a run results in a slide that can go under the opponent, assuming his stance isn’t set to low. If you press attack while running (or jumping!) you do a sword throw. A sword throw is exactly what it sounds like and will often catch a player doing something other than defending for a kill. Mid stance blocks all throw attempts on equal height, but sometimes others are more reliable depending on elevation. Throws are risky, as being unarmed sucks and an attentive player can almost always block a sword throw from a distance. Unarmed combat is goofy and almost impossible to pull off effectively unless you’re both unarmed. As far as I can tell, unarmed combat is mostly mashing. Theres probably tricks, but since death is almst assured in sword vs unarmed combat, I haven’t been able to find out. Anyways…
The Fun Stuff
So that’s the basics, most of which could be inferred from the trailer. Of course, we found some fun stuff as we played.
Low is pretty much the best stance, outside the fact that mid stance is better at switching to the appropriate guard faster. High stance is the worst. Now, the difference isn’t an ocean wide or anything, but it’s enough to build tendencies. Favoring low stance leaves you open to a stab to the face from a high attack. Vs low, you can defend and look for parries from mid and when you feel brave, press up and attack. He won’t be able to reflect (unless he’s lucky)and you can get a kill in. This is important because of…
I’m taking this term from the Fighting Game community. Fuzzy guard is switching rapidly between high and low block. This is used often during mixup in an attempt to ‘even out’ your odds of blocking. In Nidhogg, switching between two stances rapidly basically protects you from two points of attack. Most of the time you’d be fuzzy guarding against mid and low, for obvious reasons, but not always. It’s initially hard to deal with, but a timed poke to the eye usually fixes it. As such, it has become a good little technique to use in short bursts to try and get the opponent into a higher stance or catch a random disarm. A little of this combined with good reactions is a defensive cornerstone currently. It is still often more beneficial to be carefully choose when to switch though, especially against an opponent who has habits you understand.
Another fighting game loan word I’m using. Jump canceling is canceling an attack into a jump. Fighting games use this for combos, in Nidhogg this oversight (or so I predict it is)can be used to make attacks safer. Counter attacking is quite strong in the game, so whiffed lunges can be deadly. But if you jump backward after you fully extend, you can dodge any counter attacks and due to full air control, can often turn back around in mid air, land, and kill him. It can also be used for fakeouts, jumping before the attack even comes out. I’ve experimented with throwing my sword while coming down, but no luck yet.
You can be disarmed still while using this technique, but it gives you another chance to retrieve a weapon. There are a lot of possibilities with this ‘feature’ that I’ll be trying to look into.
Throw and Pit ‘Spawn Camping’
After killing your opponent, a well timed throw along with controlled forward momentum can cause the opponent to spawn with the thrown sword inside him for an instant kill. So far no one can do it consistently, but I’m pretty sure it CAN be done consistently. Currently people only try when they have a spare sword near by, but in theory, you wouldn’t even need that. You could throw, collect your old sword and fight the next enemy (and if you had that extra sword, you could instead do this TWICE). A similar oversight allows you to stop with the edge of the screen over a pit, so the spawning player falls to his death. These oversights sound powerful, but there are a few conceits.
First, the nature of the game makes it favor the player who is triying to push an opponent back to the neutral screen. On offense, enemies tend to spawn in more reliable, safer spots, but when running it back, more chances arise to exploit these behaviors. Also your gain is limited to a single screen. You are insured a safe spawn at the beginning of any screen.
Similar to the above, if you’re trying to get back to the neutral screen and you kill your opponent, suiciding into a pit will take you there. When both players die, combat resumes in the center of the map. With a prominent pit at the last screen, the defending player has a big comeback chance before losing.
Most of the time people use the slide to get past the opponent so they can run to the next screen, or to get a weapon while unarmed. But if you press attack while crossing your opponent, you perform the sword throw, instantly killing you. Due to the fact low block kills slides, this is of limited use, but it is still a useful little trick to throw out occasionally. A lot of people probably have done this on accident at the various events where people have gotten to play Nidhogg, but this is how it actually works, for the record.
Jump related nonsense
I’ll just bundle the last few bits here. A Low to the ground sword throw (has to be while falling as far as I can tell) seem to need to be blocked high to be blocked 100% of the time. You can also jump off your opponents head, though you have to be incredibly precise.It’s also possible to jump INSIDE the opponent without getting killed. This is most useful if your unarmed, as its one of the two ways I’ve seen to hit the opponent (the other is hit them while they’re jumping). Your hits will disarm him and you’ll have a chance to survive. Chances are you’re dead though, so whatever.
As a final little fun bit, throw your swords away and start jumping on each others heads. If you jump at the right times, you’ll get stuck together and go flying off the top of the screen. Great times!
So far the game has been a blast. Cracks are beginning to show, but I don’t think anything mentioned above is enough to break the game. As I play more with my friend,s I’ll give more impressions and tricks and perhaps go into more subtler things, like specific terrain tricks and the psychology of the game). Messhoff made a cool little piece of work here and I have to wonder how much of it just happened and what he is and isn’t aware of. I have no opinions one way or another, but I am curious.