This one's...Complicated.

But we'll get into that. First...actually, first, we're going to talk fighting games as a genre, because they're one of my favorite genres, but also one that's really hard to get people into. And I know why. The perception is that they're super hard to learn, that they're just huge reflex+memorization tests all about who can get off the bigger combo that they practiced alone for weeks on end, and the best us mere mortals with lives and girlfriends and hopes and dreams can ever achieve is to button-mash and see where we end up.

The thing is, they're not that. That's never been the appeal of fighting games, at least for me. No, the appeal of fighting games, is in something more simple than that. More raw, more basic, to the point that it almost sounds silly. You, are fighting, your opponent. There is no team-play dynamic. There is no leveling system. There is no rare loot. In a fighting game match between two people of similar skill, at least once you get up to the skill floor, it becomes far less about even the game mechanics, and far more about mind games. Figuring out what sorts of things your opponent does reflexively, so you can respond to those with intent.

Which brings us back to Nidhogg 2. Or rather, to Nidhogg, the first one. Because with 2 being such a direct expansion of the first, mechanically speaking, starting from the base to explain it all makes sense.

Nidhogg, when you settle into a match, is a very simple game at first glance. You have two little one-color stick figures, on the two sides of a stage that is plain pixel-art, sometimes to the point of being monochromatic. And each little stick figure has a very simple set of verbs. You can move left and right, of course. You can jump, on a button instead of holding up like you might in Street Fighter. And you have a rapier.

This rapier is the central core to Nidhogg, and to explaining everything else, including my complicated feelings about the sequel, so I'm gonna go into that. Your rapier can go into three positions, Low, Medium and High. If the two rapiers are at the same level, they'll just clink against eachother harmlessly. If, however, they mismatch, then whoever stabs first and makes the first contact, will kill their opponent.

Of course, this isn't the end. Because then the winner has to run forward, where their opponent will quickly respawn in front of them. The stage is a long, symmetrical path, with your ultimate goal being to get through the very final door at one end of the stage. This makes every clash almost pure mind-games, as well as a tug-of-war. Even the very last clash of the round can be turned back quite quickly, and carve away all that progress.

Now, you do have a few more moves beyond just the three positions. You can hold up to throw your rapier, which can be blocked or ducked under. You can do a jumping kick if you attack in midair, which will knock your opponent back...if you can connect without running into their blade, that is. And if you won the last clash, and your arrow is up telling you to keep going? Well then you can always just get past your opponent, and not even bother trying to kill them. If you can keep ahead, that is.

I'm telling you all of this, for two reasons. The first is to get across how simple it is. Three positions, throw, jump-kick. Five possible attacks, and always the same possible five. But it's just enough to let there be meat. (And strictly speaking there are a couple other interactions, but those are the obvious and relevant ones) Some players will try to go for a stab to enter the clash. Maybe they like to go high, or maybe low. Others will try to jump-kick before you can maneuver your blade, and some others will just throw their damn sword at you, then jump past while you're busy dealing with it.

And the second, is because all of this mechanical underpinning is still there in Nidhogg 2. The graphics, of course, are very different, as you can clearly see. The two games look worlds apart...And this is where the complicated feelings start. See, Nidhogg 2 looks friggin' gorgeous in screenshots, and I do legitimately think that the sprite-work in the backgrounds is fantastic art. The problem, then, is that those backgrounds can sometimes compete with the action, making it hard to keep track of your characters. And your characters clearly move like puppets with individual pieces, which is at times somewhat charming, but at other times feels almost cheap, and obviously far different from the lean sprite animation of the first game.

There's also something else you might notice. More than just the rapier. Indeed, the game now has four weapons; the rapier, a broadsword (which arcs between Low and High instead of stabbing, with no Medium), a dagger (faster than the rapier, and harder to block if you throw it, but less range) and a bow (it shoots arrows, but has no real blocking ability).

And this too presents complicated feelings. Because it's not that any of these weapons are, themselves, bad. Archery battles are nearly as fun as fencing duels, and the broadsword has a lot of really interesting quirks. Its limited positions to parry limit your defense, while its arcing swing, which can knock a weapon out of your enemy's hands, means it becomes far more about timing than positioning.

The problem is that instead of choosing a weapon, you will spawn with them in a rotating order, each kill bringing you a different tool. And this is...Not great. For two reasons. The first is that it means as the currently defensive player trying to stop your opponent, you have limited capacity to really get used to a weapon and make good use of it, particularly if you're a newcomer to the game. And if you're the dominant player, you have an advantage, but one entirely based on luck. Your entire edge is based on option paralysis and chaos, that your opponent will fail to choose, or will randomly choose a sub-optimal response, from their lack of consistency...Which also means that a wild, random strike getting through is somewhat inevitable, but something neither player can rely on or say happened with intent.

This is without even touching the fact that some of these clashes get really weird, and can produce super uneven odds. I definitely had
matches where, say, getting the bow against an opponent who didn't know how to deal with it well, basically meant a whole stack of free victories until they got lucky with a counter. And when I say lucky, I mostly mean that they happened to spawn such that their sword sent my arrow back before either of us realized what had happened.

And speaking of opponents, while the game does have online matchmaking, it's...kinda rough. The netcode itself is basically fine, but the matchmaking is really wobbly at times. It focuses almost purely on latency, to ensure it's as smooth as possible, but this also means that you've got no real guarantee of running into a player who's around your skill level. Curbstomps, either for or against you, are downright likely, depending on where you live. Now of course, all of this doesn't matter nearly so much if you're just using netplay because your fighting game friends live far away, but it's worth pointing out if you're jumping into this genre solo.

Really, much like the first game, Nidhogg 2 by far works best with a group of friends and a case of alcoholic beverages in one room, rotating controllers out as people win and lose. It's an experience well-suited to keeping up the wild chaos of those fighting game mind-games in a title whose mechanics are both simple, and graspable, enough that someone can actually get them and use them with intent, after only a little bit of training.

The problem is that this is much like the first game...And in fact, Nidhogg the first might actually do this better, by virtue of the purity of its simple form. Those five moves, some simple art designs that keep you in the action, and that's all you need. And all you need to grasp, too.

So that's where I find myself in a complicated position. At its worst, Nidhogg 2 is somewhat less than the sum of its parts...But those are some really interesting parts, ones that can bring a little extra new meat to the game if you've played its predecessor to death.

I guess, if I'm going to tell you what to do and pretend you'll actually listen, here's what I think. If you've never played a Nidhogg game, go get the first one. Then, if and when you decide you want to throw more chaos and options into the mix, pick up the sequel. Just...I can't recommend starting here. This is a game for veterans of the original, for better and for worse.