[by Michael Molinari]

NIDHOGG is one of those games that lights people up simply at its mention. After reaching acclaim and receiving the IGF Nuovo award in 2011, a very excited and patient audience has been waiting for its release. Because the game has only made a handful of public appearances over the years, my heart skipped a beat when I was suddenly challenged to a game of NIDHOGG at the recent EVO fighting game championships in Las Vegas. Expecting to jump into the same familiar symphony of yellow and orange blood splatters, I was joyed to see the game had been under construction all this time, showcasing the largest update yet. After talking with Mark Essen and Kristy Norindr at the event, I learned of some of the exciting things in store for the game's upcoming release, as well.

Previously, a standard game of NIDHOGG saw two fencers trying to get to their respective ends of a castle, fighting off endless versions of themselves via stabbing, sword-throwing, fisticuffs, and sometimes a smart and cowardly flee. While the premise is still largely the same, the addition of several new maneuvers throws most old strategies out the window. The most significant game-changer is the dive kick, executable at any time when in the air. Defenders can attempt to slice their opponent with proper spacing, but they no longer have an advantage with swift thrusting alone. In addition to the dive kick, players can also grab ledges, roll underneath opponents, crawl on the ground, and even wall jump. Hand-to-hand combat has become an intense race to snap the neck of one's opponent, resulting in a satisfying crackle of pixels that lie motionless on the floor.

From a visual standpoint, the game's minimal charm is retained, with additional detail sprinkled throughout. Cobwebs, discarded seating, and doored chambers line the halls of a decaying castle, the fiery endpoints of which are eternally ablazed with a rousing display of energy and anticipation. Many player animations have been refined or added, further bringing our yellow and orange adversaries into a believable and enjoyable presence. My favorite small touches are how their sabres wobble when repositioned and how a player lands on his face when falling from a tall step.

While the pumping soundtrack by GDFX was not heard in this EVO build, all of the game's sound effects have been spruced up from blippy chirps to meaty thumps, stabs, tosses, neck snappings, and moans of anguish. Played in tandem with tiny pixelly fencers, the sounds bring the action of each match all the more to life.


Click the image above to watch 6 seconds of creator Mark Essen repeatedly outwit Samurai Gunn developer Beau Blyth.

When NIDHOGG was finally shown on Saturday (day 2 of the event), there was always a crowd around the game. A custom two-player cement-top arcade stick sat in front of a 40'' screen, captivating those around it. Whether event-goers were playing, waiting in line, or passing by, they all shared the same expressions on their faces: of joy, excitement, wonder. The game need only be observed for a moment before one understands what's going on and why it would be thrilling to play. Even players who lose a match walk away with a smile, overpowered by a rush of energy and friendly sabre-thrusting.

When I came back Sunday morning for more NIDHOGG, I was presented with an empty table of discarded chairs and pamphlets, Mark himself packing up his television and cement arcade stick alongside partner in crime/life Kristy. They agreed to answer some burning questions as long as I helped them carry their equipment to their car outside of the Bally's casino. So as I dragged a 40'' TV through a labyrinth of chain smokers bolted to slot machines, I asked the question most asked of something like NIDHOGG, "When's it coming out?"

And so in my queries I learned the following wonderful bits of information: NIDHOGG is slated to be released later this year, with hopes to be available through Steam. It's going to offer not only multiple stages, but a single-player component against AI fencers. The biggest surprise of all is the inclusion of an online multiplayer component, the details of which are still being worked out. Mark expressed his desire to include different weapons as well, such as a battle axe, "something with momentum," but that likely won't be seen with the initial release.

NIDHOGG - once a mythological Norse serpent that eternally gnawed at the root of the World Tree, now a contemporary serpent that eats the victors of a castle duel - is an anticipated showdown of sharpened possibility that I eagerly await. Few experiences in competitive euphoria have matched even the least cutthroat match in a game of NIDHOGG. With its impending release on the cusp of this year, soon the world will together be able to share in its sharpness and not just a selection of people who happened to be in the right place at the right time.

[Michael Molinari wrote this using sister site Gamasutra's free blog]