Nine Parchments is an entry in the niche twin stick RPG-lite wizard loot finding shooter genre. Indeed, this genre is so niche it currently only has one entry, but is lack of competition the only reason that Nine Parchments stands out? Or would it hold its own even if this genre were as popular as the grizzled angry space marine in a dystopian future FPS genre?
This brand new release from developers Frozenbyte sees up to four players team up for some wizard blasting co-op action, whether locally or online. If Gauntlet, Diablo and Geometry Wars got together and had a lovechild, it would probably be Nine Parchments.
First things first, this is an utterly beautiful game to behold. The top down levels have an almost painterly feel, made up of bright purples, vivid greens, and luscious blues. In fact, so effective is the art style that it breathes new life into staid video game settings of icy wastelands, caves and beaches. Choosing from one of the delightfully varied and eclectic trainee wizards, each bought wonderfully to life with some extremely characterful voice work, the player will progress through the levels in a strictly linear fashion. This gentle progression is punctuated by frequent battles against the local wildlife who would like nothing better than to swallow a sorcerer or two.
This is certainly a combat orientated experience, so it’s worth noting that all of the spells at the player’s disposal have a delightful heft and are satisfying to use, be they beams, fireballs or grenade-like curse spells. The twin stick controls are accurate and well-mapped, allowing for quick and efficient targeting whilst moving to dodge attacks.
The foes that will soon be getting a fireball to the face are also entertainingly diverse. There are bulls that charge at you leaving a trail in their wake like a furry tron light-cycle, there’s chicaroos (a word of my own devising for foe resembling giant chicken kangaroos) that attempt to jump on your head, and what can only be described as gun toting yetis. There are many more, each with an elemental persuasion that renders them vulnerable to spells of an opposing element, adding a nice bit of tactical play to all of the shooting. And no matter the on-screen chaos that occurs, particularly during four player combat, the clear visual design meant I never lost sight of my character.
So far, so good. The first few levels breeze by, and before you know it you’ll have defeated some bosses and are well on your way. And then it slowly dawns on you. Nothing else happens. You run to the next fight, shoot the enemies, run for a bit, shoot some more enemies and then follow all that up with a bit more running. This sounds like an odd criticism when many games also resemble that description. Indeed, Halo turned it into an art form, Bungie building the entire game around the idea of 30 second action bubbles. But whereas Halo varied the content of each bubble and asked more of the player in each confrontation, Nine Parchments does not. The combination of enemies you face might change, but the combat stays the same. Soon the fighting starts to grind and with little else to do, things start to get a bit dull.
Invariably four player co-op play spices things up. With the ability of the characters to cross their magic beams, ghost busters style, a welcome addition. Even this only holds off the boredom and repetition of the core game mechanics rather than preventing them completely.
Things aren’t helped by the loot collecting aspect of the game being utterly forgettable. An occasional treasure chest can be found which might contain a new hat or staff. But nine times out of ten it has some boring experience points in it. These points can level up certain aspects of your character at the end of each level to little or no discernible effect. Much more fun are the Nine Parchments in question, gained by defeating the end of level boss and each providing a new spell to utilise. Whilst the spells are satisfyingly kinetic, the spell selection controls perform poorly. You scroll through spells with the controller’s shoulder buttons, which is fine when you have only a few spells to call upon, but when you have six or seven in your arsenal it makes selecting them in the heat of battle unnecessarily fiddly.
The greatest misstep Nine Parchments makes is its abysmal save system. Let’s say you decide to play some local co-op with your flatmate, have fun with lots of shouting and shooting and then you want to play online. Well, you can, but the game will force you to start from the beginning, albeit with your character’s experience levels carrying over. So when you and your flatmate get around to playing together you’ll be forced to start the game again. Want to play some single-player? Then you’ll be sent to the start again. At this point you’ll be so familiar and fed up with the opening levels that you’ll be able to play then in your sleep without ever having to turn your console on. It looks like the having multiple save slots is going to be included in a future patch, but not having it at launch only heightens Nine Parchments’ problems.
Nine Parchments is a solid release. Its gorgeous art style, dependable controls and fun co-op play almost hide a multitude of sins. Almost. Unfortunately, with a poor save system and combat mechanics that never really develop from the first level onwards, Nine Parchments soon becomes a slog that is less than magical.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4