Nidhogg: Blood Brothers

Two things happened to me recently that inspired this blog entry. Firstly, a friend moved into my flat. Secondly, I bought a copy of the game Nidhogg by messhof. After seeing the praise lavished upon the title, and having a new flatmate with whom I could play, I eagerly proffered my coins.

I expected to like Nidhogg because it seemed to possess contradictions that make so many games addictive: simple gameplay with hidden nuance, graphics and music that recall past limitations and artistic freedom, and a lack of variety that by robustness offers vast replayability. It has all of these things. But what I love most about Nidhogg is that it has helped me rediscover the joy of versus gaming on the couch.

Aside from the odd catch-up in person with a friend or family, my “local” gaming has been thin on the ground. It has been 10 years or more since I had the opportunity to regularly sit down with a mate and play against one another in a gripping little game of death. So, to me, Nidhogg, with its gameplay and aesthetics, perfectly evokes the atmosphere of a sleepover.

The castle is the go-to level for our Nidhogg duels
The castle is the go-to level for our Nidhogg duels

The game drops two players in it: your avatars fall to one of the game’s four levels armed with a foil each and immediately commence a deadly tug of war. Each level consists of a series of screens that represents the territory and let’s say “base” of each player. You must make your way to the base of your enemy, who is trying to do the same. The battle can be compared to badminton: killing your opponent will hand you the power to move towards your opponent’s base and vice versa. Players respawn a few seconds after being slain, leading to constant duels for the flow of movement that never lose their tension. The game possesses a remarkable spontaneity – snatching victory just yards away from defeat, or evading your enemy only to mistime a jump and fall directly into a pit. There is finesse to the combat that takes time to learn, with three different sword stances and several different acrobatic moves that finely balances skill and chance. There is so much to discover that it is difficult to get bored, although my play sessions with my friend have tended to last anything between 15 and 30 minutes each time. But we keep coming back for more.

Every death hands you bragging rights or shamefacedness, and it’s impossible to blame failure on the controls

You can play Nidhogg online, but to me its real joy comes from playing it with someone in person, a friend I can hurl abuse at, punch or lord it over. Every death hands you bragging rights or shamefacedness, and it is impossible to blame failure on the precise controls. This is hardly new territory for games, but is something that has been all too absent in my life until now. And it’s how Nidhogg articulates that experience. Like Divekick, it revels in compressing a round of Street Fighter or other versus games into a few seconds and delivers that rush of twitches and emotion many times over in a single level. It is also a game that never lets you forget the malice in which the victor revels while your opponent squirms on the couch; the winner’s reward is being eaten by Nidhoggr, the Norse mythological worm-like dragon from which the game takes its name, which fed on the corpses of murderers, adulterer and those who broke oaths.

I couldn’t recommend Nidhogg to people who don’t have a friend or group they can regularly play with in person, because I think it loses something fundamental when it can’t be experienced that way. But to those who can, it is a fantastic purchase that promises to absorb hours of your time over the next few years. For more information, go to



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One response to “Nidhogg: Blood Brothers”

  1. Hambino avatar

    Great piece. Many of my most treasured gaming memories came from playing with friends in the same room. Online multiplayer is fine, but the communal experience diminishes with physical distance.

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