Friday, February 7, 2014

En Garde!

A couple weeks ago a little indie title came out on Steam by the name of Nidhogg.  It's basically a 2D fighting game that gets it's name from a rather obscure source.  As one gaming personality put it, the word "Nidhogg" sounds like a racial slur.  However, it's actually the name of a dragon from Norse mythology.  Unlike dragons in other viking sagas, such as Fafnir or the unnamed dragon in Beowulf, Nidhogg resides at the base of the world tree Yggdrasil, presumably chewing away on its roots like some nightmarishly giagantic reptilian gopher.  In this game it's a long pink flying serpent that devours the winning player whole at the end of each fencing match.  Believe it or not though this isn't the first appearance of Nidhogg the dragon in a video game.  While never explicitly stated, Dark Souls has a cameo of this particular mythical creature down in the hidden Ash Lake.

Entomology aside, I've seen a lot of comments here and there comparing Nidhogg the game to the original Karateka.  I can see the similarities, but the game which it reminds me the most of is an old arcade classic called Gladiator.  Originally made in Japan back in the 1980s, it was brought over to arcades in the USA.  Much like Nidhogg in single player mode, the objective of the game is to move right and face off against foes approaching from the opposite direction (usually the same one multiple times).  Unlike Nidhogg though there are occasional trap sections where the player must defend against incoming fireballs, bats, and other projectiles.  Pretty standard stuff, but what makes Gladiator unique is its design emphasis which rewards a cautious approach.  This is something practically unheard of in an arcade game since it's detrimental to profit margins.  Nevertheless, the idea here is to wear down an opponent's defenses by striking high, middle, and low with an era appropriate short sword.  Well timed hits will knock off location specific armor, damage an opponents shield, or even break their weapon, reducing them to a rather impotent state.  Time and again I saw arcade-goers throw cation (and their quarters) to the wind by rushing in with a flurry of blows.  More often than not this resulted in the player loosing the match even against relatively easy A.I. controlled opponents.  However, if a more forbearant player took the time to observe their opponent and plan accordingly then victory became nothing more than a matter of time.  Better still the game actively encouraged this strategy in the form of points awarded for stripping away an opponent's armor (head to ankle) before finishing them off with a blow to an unprotected area.  In this way players could net a higher score and earn their initials on the leader boards.  It's a neat mechanic which I think would suit Nidhogg quite nicely.

That's not to say Nidhogg is a bad game as is.  It just feels like its current state is a cool little PvP component for what could potentially be a much more compelling single player experience.  Imagine Nidhogg with a greater variety of enemies, weapons, and environments.  Not to mention shields and armor which could increase durability at the expense of mobility.  A few scripted visual story beats would add a lot too (à la the original Prince of Persia) or Out of this World (Another World for those of you outside the USA).

Sadly, it sounds like the creator of Nidhogg is more interested in online play and the whole E-sports scene rather than making enhancements to the single player component.  Again, I don't want to be too hard on the guy.  I know this game spent a long time in development and I'm really glad that it has finally become available for anyone and everyone to try's just Nidhogg could be so much more, I think.  *Sigh*...C'est la vie!

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