When I saw the first trailer for Nidhogg 2, I didn't like it. The art style was a bit too funky, and a far cry from the minimalistic, expressive look of the first game. It seemed like an unforced error, going from a refined and elegant look to something chaotic and crowded. Watching the game in motion at this year's PlayStation Experience (and playing a few rounds of it), almost all of my doubts were assuaged.
When I asked the person demoing the game to me (and my opponent) about the change in art direction, he told me the team wanted to make sure the game stood out from its predecessor. "We want this to be its own thing," they told me. They know a lot of people like the simple look and gameplay of the original, but wanted to try new things with the sequel. Thus, the art style is a clear indicator. It screams "prepare for something different."
The more I played, the more my doubts about the art style began to fade away. The animations are great, not the least of which is a new, exaggerated stomping animation that plays when one player downs another and attacks their body. The titular Nidhogg (the giant worm that eats whoever makes it far enough on their side of the stage to win the match) looks as grotesque and ugly as you'd want it to, considering its insidious goal. The art as a whole is brutish, but fits with the game's savage competition and gives it a different tone. The naked (but, from what I saw, safe-for-work) bodies of the two competitors emphasized how dehumanizing a competition like this must be, and characters can spawn as different genders. Also, as skeletons.
Nidhogg 2's gameplay isn't wildly different from the first, but it is more varied. In addition to the rapier from the first game, you can now pick up larger claymores or smaller daggers, as well as a bow. As you might expect, the dagger is a bit faster to wield, but doesn't have the range of the other weapons. The claymore is a bit slower, but swings in a wide arc downwards, as opposed to the rapier's refined prods. The bow can fire an infinite number of arrows, but does not kill when thrown. I liked the variety in weapons since it adds to the chaos of having to scrounge your way to the upper hand from what you're given, but I feel like the bow and arrow is a bit too strong. I didn't have many issues evading arrows, but it put me on my toes more than the melee-range weapons, since I knew I was always in danger.
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Besides that, most of the maneuvers in Nidhogg make a return. You can dive kick by pressing the attack button, and roll by crouching down while running. You can do full-body flail if you jump while crouched, which my friends and I dubbed "frogging" back when we played the first game.
Playing a couple of matches with one of the developers, my long-winded sessions of the original game came back to me, and I had a blast. Having to gain a new awareness of your situation every time your character respawns after dying, all while your opponent makes their mad dash for the finish line, still makes for a long of frantic moments that lead to emotions running high for long periods of time. Our first match went for almost six minutes, though I get the feeling the developer I was playing with let me win. But I stilled enjoyed what I played, and the new weapons enhance the game's chaotic feel.
After we wrapped up our demo, I asked the developer if the team was going to go more in-depth about the world of Nidhogg through a more expansive story mode. He told me the story mode won't be expansive, but it'll be more substantial than the original, and offer a few details about the world.
Though the changes Nidhogg 2 makes sound out of step with the simplistic philosophy of the first game, I came away from the sequel eager to play more. I'm more sold on the new art style, and the changes sound like enough to keep me up for a few more nights, yelling at my friends about how they're playing like jerks and how I totally pressed the jump button and should not have fallen into that pit. I swear I did.