Nine Parchments (Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Steam)

Nine Parchments is an excellent local co-op game of wizards, monsters, and friendly fire. Up to four players (local or online) take the role of an apprentice wizard out to make a name for themselves by collecting the lost Nine Parchments. Players fight through progressively harder levels to collect all nine parchments and finish the game. Multiple difficulty levels, skill trees, and unlockables (new characters, powerful staffs, and cosmetic hats) provide replay value for what would otherwise be a linear quest line. A great addition to the local multiplayer catalogue on the Switch (the version reviewed here), Nine Parchments is a must-buy for local co-op fans.

Nine Parchments is what I call a Gauntlet-clone. Up to four players wander through waves of monsters as they make their way through a series of lush environments. The game focuses around a primary set of elements: cold, fire, electric, death, and healing. Monster attacks (other than physical) fall into one of the five categories, with monsters of each type typically immune to that element. Each element has an advantage. Prolonged cold damage will slow, then freeze an opponent, electricity can stun, and fire often burns over time. A rock-paper-scissors effect is in play with cold and fire creatures usually taking more damage from their opposite. Healing magic (typically unwise to use on monsters) also does damage to death-based monsters. Some monsters carry with them an aura of protection (or healing or slowness) and if they start to overlap, it can be quite difficult to take them down (can you kill something immune to both fire and ice at the same time?) There isn’t much room to maneuver, but sometimes one can jostle the field to get an opening in one or the other auras. There are several “boss fights” in the game, most protecting yet another parchment, and their special attacks or situations (like an ongoing wave of beasts) keep a player on their toes.

Initially, players can only select from one of two possible characters. One more focused on damage and the other with strong healing abilities. Each character starts with a set of three spells which can be accessed through a rotating selection wheel. Typically one beam, one area effect, and one projectile each of a different element. Each spell has its own source of “mana” which regenerates over time, so that you cannot just spam your favorite spell over and over again. There are a number of styles of projectiles and area effect spells, but one of the cornerstones of the magic system are the beams. While they don’t do as much damage as a single large spell, they can be kept up for seconds at a time, a great way to stun or freeze enemies. While it takes a bit of finesse, you can also “cross the beams” to get a new beam more powerful than two beams alone. Some options in the skill tree lets your beam spells ramp up over time. Each time a parchment is collected, players add a new spell to their spellbook (taking up a new spot on their wheel) letting them specialize in particular methods (area effect, projectile, beams) or elements (fire/cold/death/electricity/healing) if they so choose.

As the game progresses, players can unlock new characters (7 in total) as well as four different versions of each character. Versions of a character have a different color set for their costume, but also have different spells for their starting three. Character versions share the same pool of experience with each other as well as experience across all games. Thus, one can level up a character solo and then use its higher level version when playing with others. Each level provides another skill point which can be used on that character’s skill tree. Characters have different skill trees, but versions of a character have the same. There are actually three trees that can be accessed, but the second and third tree are not unlocked until one unlocks a second or third version of that character. At the start of the game (the introductory level) a player can choose to reset their skill tree points for that game.

That’s all the mechanics, and it makes for an enjoyable single player experience, but where the game shines is in multiplayer gameplay. Marching around on the screen, a team of three or four players quickly becomes a massive explosion of light and color. Every spell affects both monsters and teammates, so players are going to be damaging each other more often than not. To (slightly) compensate for this, dead players can be resurrected by standing next to their body during combat. However, that is easier said than done when being chased by large frozen bulls charging across the screen. Resurrection is cumulative, so hopping back to the body when you get the chance will eventually bring them back. (Out of combat, resurrection, healing, and spell regeneration are almost instantaneous.)

The game scales with the number of players, but the screen size does not. This means that a four player game will have four times the monsters AND four times the wizards in the same area. This could easily be frustrating, but is best thought of as part of the charm. Players who simply must insist on optimal game play may find playing with two players are best. Single player battles are typically manageable but one wrong move can quickly result in player death. Players are allowed one free resurrection per level when everyone dies (except on hardcore mode.) A two player game manages to keep prevent some of the massive chaos of 3 or 4 player games, but still allows players to resurrect each other (during or after battle) when things go south.

Yet another great local multiplayer game. As always, online multiplayer can be mixed, but tends to be reasonable (there isn’t a way to directly communicate, but a rudimentary language can sometimes come across.) Playing the game solo is “OK”, but multiplayer games are a hoot. Three or four player games are simply chaos and are great fun for those who don’t take the game too seriously. The storyline can be beat in a few hours of play (for a good player) but the levelling aspect and character unlocks give the game much greater depth. Yet another indie game that makes a great showing on the Switch.

Kid Factor:
The color palette and graphics look great, but there is the occasional splurge of blood here and there – if you can see it behind all the graphical explosions. Otherwise, the story line and voice acting (what there is) are pretty tame. Players should be mature enough to deal with the frustration of being killed by one’s friends, but no reading is required. Online game play has very limited communications (none, really) so online play is a bit less exposing than might be found in other games.

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