Developer Ellada Games has built a beautiful looking world in Niffelheim, its survival 2D adventure game with gathering and crafting going alongside exploration and combat. Niffelheim places a brave fallen warrior at the forefront of the action, their soul trapped and unable to escape, and tasks players to fight their way to find a way to Asgard. While the art and backdrops are wonderful, the repetitive nature of gathering, the mindless combat system, and the constant babysitting of a hunger meter reveals a game that is far more of a chore than a treat for the Nintendo Switch.
The Mechanics Of “Progress”
Progress in Niffelheim is ultimately measured through short and long-term goals. The long-term goal is to defeat enough bosses to acquire all the necessary components to create a portal to Asgard, and that premise is simple enough.
Getting there, however, is achieved by the accumulation of all the short-term goals associated with RPGs and gathering/crafting games. A character levels up by repeatedly performing an action, be it chopping down trees, cooking, fighting, and so on.
Gathering is straightforward and uninspired. Since this is a 2D game, players simply run left and right interacting with every tree and bush to obtain a variety of items. Meat comes from awkwardly killing animals, and the inventory quickly fills with meat, mushrooms, produce, seeds, twigs, and logs.
At night, enemies appear and attack. It is a bit jarring in Niffelheim because once the sun sets, skeletons simply appear between you and your castle, rather than advancing from the outside of the map towards the center.
After spending most of a day simply advancing through the map and picking up everything along the way, players return to their castle and expand their base, build crafting stations for weapons and armor, and cook food.
Therein lies the problem, because the above description of a day is what most of the game entails. Once you are out of crafting materials, it is time to head back out into the world, walk left or right, and pick up or chop down everything you see. To mix it up, you can also go into a mine in your castle or elsewhere, to find resources like ores, in an equally repetitive process.
Considering that players harvest resources all day to create armor and weapons, it is a shame that the combat is repetitive and simplistic, requiring no player skill at all. Have you engaged in a variety of activities to level up, and crafted some weapons and armor? You will probably be fine then, standing in place, making the same attack animation until the opponent, who is equally as uninspired, falls down. Players can attempt to move in and out of melee range, but all that does is result in an annoying clipping issue where you swing through an enemy and hit the one behind, allowing the one in front to hit you in the process.
This is a real problem for Niffelheim, because no matter what genre it is trying to be, either RPG or survival, combat should at least feel as though it is worth the time needed to progress. There is a variety of armor, weapons, both ranged and melee, and potions that a player can craft to give them an edge, but when it comes time to fight, players stand in place and holds down a single button to swing away over and over again. Movement is non-existent, and it feels a bit silly.
Babysitting The Hunger Meter
According to the game’s description, our character is a fallen warrior stuck in Niffelheim, trying to get to Valhalla. For some reason, the spirit needs to be fed and go through the motions of eating. Disregarding how odd that feels, the hunger meter is one of the worst parts of the game to have to babysit. Managing time to maximize gathering and mining before the nighttime attacks come, which are a significant threat later in the game that will destroy your castle if left unchecked, should be all one needs to worry about. Instead, you have the added worry of making sure your character is well fed.
Much like the beautiful art design and the backgrounds seen when exploring the world, the music is a treat to listen too. However, there seem to only be a few tracks and the same music is repeated often. There is also a constant issue, at least on the Nintendo Switch, where the loading screen music simply stops after loading about halfway and players are left with no sound. This occasionally happens in dungeons and is simply one more unpolished detail that should not be occurring.
Too Much Busy Work
Ultimately, Niffelheim feels like a flash game for a web browser, and not something that players would get excited for on the Nintendo Switch or any of the other platforms it has released on. In some ways, Niffelheim incorporates the 2D exploration of the Kingdom series, but it makes you do all the busywork. It is not difficult in any skillful way. It simply demands you reach certain gathering and crafting quotas a by certain time, or your character will be destroyed and you will need to begin again.
Overall, playing this game feels like a shame. It is a shame that combat is not more complex and rewarding of skill, it is a shame that movement feels choppy, it is a shame that the music is lacking, and finally, it is a shame that even if one or two of these elements were fixed, the game would feel far more enjoyable to fall into for hours at a time. In its current design, the game begins and ends feeling like a chore.
2 Out Of 5 Stars