GDC11: Nidhogg Hands-On

By Allen Park

March 4, 2011

I’m at a somewhat hidden hipster bar in San Francisco, dance music is blaring in the background, indie developers are all around me getting drunk, and I’m playing a game where the objective is to get to the other side so a penis dragon can gobble you up. That is Nidhogg, Messhof’s creation that’s blown up in popularity and took home the Nuovo Award at the Independent Games Festival this week at the GDC.

Nidhogg is strictly a multiplayer game, in which the objective is to get to the other side of the level. It’s a fencing game, where two characters spawn on opposite sides of the screen right in the middle of the level. You can jab in the top, middle, and bottom, or if you’re really desperate, you can hurl the sword at your opponent, hoping to kill him.

Once you kill the other person (or he kills you), you’ll have the opportunity to run to the left or the right for a bit, depending on where you start, before he respawns again to impede your progress. What follows is an amazing bit of tug of war in which you have to prevent the other from progressing and simultaneously make progress yourself.

If it sounds stupid, it’s understandable. It’s only when you actually get a chance to play the game that you realize the brilliance behind the game, and the intense competition such a simple premise can bring to a social situation. Just like any fighting game, there’s moments of drama where anyone can come all the way from behind to win the whole thing. The difference is that anyone can play, as the mechanics are so simple and the graphics are so retro that it wouldn’t even intimidate Zynga. While someone can look like a straight up badass in one moment, he’ll accidentally powerslide into a pit the next, creating a perfect setting for drama to occur at any turn.

The Nuovo Award at the IGF is typically given to an indie game that’s the most artsy-fartsy of them all. When compared to a game like Dinner Date or A House in California, Nidhogg looks like almost the exact opposite; a simple, retro themed game that doesn’t offer anything new to the table. However, when you see such huge crowds develop while people are playing, you can’t help but marvel at how such a simple premise could make so many nerds gather about and laugh like schoolgirls when both players throw their swords and have to resort to kung-fu to kick each others’ ass.

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There’s still no word on when Nidhogg‘s truly coming out, but Messhof keeps saying “soon”, and I, for one, cannot wait to bring this to the home.

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Allen Park

Allen is an utter whore of a gamer; he's completely open-minded to all games, be they AAA blockbusters or $5 casual children's games. His focus is on indie games specifically, valuing gameplay and ingenuity over sparkly visuals and ridiculous gimmicks. When he's not geeking out over the newest art game, he's out toning his sexy, sculpted shoulders while surfing epic 1.5ft waves, or having a good time with local, high-gravity microbrews.

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