Fun fact; if you say the word "Nidhogg" over and over, you sound like you're doing an impression of a fire engine. This doesn't have an awful lot to do with the following review, but it's a fun way to pass the time during the fifty seconds Nidhogg takes to download its 100-ish megabytes of game. It's also indicative of just how much fun developers Messhoff have crammed into their tiny creation. If fun could be distilled, a single-malt Nidhogg would be the result.
Here's the scenario. Two tiny stickmen wielding two tiny stick-swords face off in a 2D duel to the death. Every time one of them is killed, they get pushed back a little bit, enabling the other combatant to run past them toward the next screen, starting position. If one duellist manages to push the other back past the final screen, they win, and may celebrate by running past a cheering audience before being consumed by a giant worm. Because Nidhogg.
Duelling involves moving your sword into one of three positions, and then pressing a button to lunge. Stick your opponent and they'll squeal and dissolve in a surprisingly grisly fashion, given these are yellow and orange stickmen we're talking about. Added to these basic moves are the ability to jump, roll, dive-kick, sweep-kick, throw your sword, and, if your opponent is knocked down, rip their heart out with your bare hands.
Each move you make can result in a quick and messy death, but every move can also be dodged and countered, and the results of this is that Nidhogg is often beautifully ludicrous and achingly funny. Some more typical moments of absurdity include both combatants throwing their swords into one another's heads, or one duellist rolling underneath his opponent's guard and then making a mad dash for the next area, resulting in a Benny Hill style-chase with deadly weapons instead of giggling women.
You can always tell a well designed melee combat game by its ability to amuse through ridiculous outcomes, but also to offer tense, dramatic battles, and Nidhogg delivers both with equal flair. There will be fights in which both players will by performing all manner of crazy acrobatics, throwing and scooping up each other's swords like a pair of angry jugglers before coming together in intense clashes of blades. The simple controls combined with the game's surprising speed and slick, responsive animations result in a delicate balancing between player skill and random chance, which are absolutely key in developing any kind of fighting game.