Multiplayer And The Art Of Fencing


There are plenty of ways to approach a competitive multiplayer game. First person shooters get by every few years by throwing in new guns and a few new mechanics, but rely primarily on skills and reaction. The ever-growing MOBA craze and its continual evolution into eSports further increases the necessity of study, reaction, and critical thinking already key in the act of competition. Classics like Mario Party randomize the hell out of everything and make an outstandingly easy AI (if you haven’t seen the videos of Luigi winning minigames doing literally nothing, you’re missing out on fine absurdity).

Recent indie sensation Nidhogg, however, has earned bold praise for its competitive edge that puts most modern AAA games to shame. Nidhogg is a simple game where two pixelated stick figures murder one another with fencing swords. Yet it holds a curious ability to cause beads of sweat to materialize on the player’s forehead, to cause passers-by to stop and watch the blows be traded and gouts of neon pixel-blood spray everywhere. In the game, the balance of power is on the head of a pin. It’s not over until it’s over. You’ve been disarmed, knocked down, and your opponent is strangling you? Snap out of that hold, get him on the ground, and finish him yourself. The sword play can go in only the cardinal directions, but the player can move too; you can throw your sword, you can punch your opponent in the face, you can dive-kick, somersault, and roll in the frantic murderfest that is Nidhogg.

What makes the game special? Why is it putting to shame games that giant corporations (filled with real people, mind you) made over the course of years with ten times the budget? To grossly summarize, Nidhogg never lets the action cool, not for a second. Despite the simplicity of the mechanics, I played a 15 minute game and didn’t find myself bored in the slightest.

Nidhogg keeps the game fun. By giving a multitude of ways to kill and be killed, the mechanics allow a certain amount of freshness, a sort of crop-rotation of blood splatter. The action is kept ever urgent by never allowing the game, or even a single life, to end until it’s well and truly dead. It’s very easy to come back from the brink of death with a few well placed dive-kicks and barrel rolls, unless your opponent is good enough to block you. The flow is interrupted only by split-second respawns, just barely enough to catch your breath and start forming a new plan of attack.

It’s the kind of game that spawns verbal outcries. Lots of oohs and aahs and take that motherfuckers. It’s a perfect metaphor for what an ideal competition should be: a friendly fencing match. A game where every strike could go either way, where every decision is crucial, where nothing is ever finished, where time is at a premium, and every mistake can be met with laughter (and severed spines).