There’s something, well…magical about games that feature spellcasting. Whenever it’s possible in a game, I tend to take the wizarding route. There’s a certain allure to being a squishy, terribly fragile flesh bag who’s able to hurl devastating fireballs and bolts of lightning from afar.
Nine Parchments, from Trine and Has-Been Heroes developer FrozenByte, is a game centred on just that. After an explosive thaumaturgical mishap at a school for budding witches and wizards scatters nine magical parchments out into the world, a group of spellcasters-in-training – who haven’t earned their destructive magic stripes – take it upon themselves to retrieve them.
What follows is an immensely fun, chaotic spellcasting blast-em-up – provided you play it with other people. As a solo adventure, Nine Parchments becomes a little more mundane. When you’re playing the game solo, it’s an otherwise unremarkable, rudimentary isometric action RPG with a heavy focus on magic. You’ll move your selected wannabe wizard through a series of incredibly beautiful, magical fantasy environments, slinging spells at all manner of fantastic beasts. It’s set in the same world as Trine, so it has a similar, hazy otherworldly aesthetic, and though the regular enemies you’ll blast with bolts of lightning and balls of fire are regularly recycled, there are some lovely, inventive bosses.
There’s a bit of rock-paper-scissors strategy in figuring out which types of magic to use against which enemies, but once you have the basics of it, it all becomes a little repetitive. Fire spells work best on ice creatures, ice spells work best on infernal ones and so on. Thankfully, the new spell-types you earn as you progress add a bit of dynamism to prevent it all from becoming too stale.
At first glance, it looks a little like Diablo, but there’re only very light RPG mechanics in play – making it more like Gauntlet with only mages, or Magicka without the complex spells. While you’re able to upgrade your abilities, throwing experience points to incrementally increase things like spell destruction and regeneration, the only worthwhile loot comes in the form of staves – which might add new abilities, or enhance existing ones. There are also hats to collect but they’re entirely cosmetic, making them entirely pointless. Without much in the way of engaging loot, the whole experience devolves into tedium.
Until you play it with other people.
Once you have a full party of spellcasters, the game becomes a ballet of mayhem, as each player fires off a litany of different elemental spells. Thanks to abundant friendly fire, you’re forced to avoid attacks from your co-operative cohorts as much as you do enemies and their attacks. You can also work with your friends, by fusing your attacks together to create more powerful ones –leaving the screen and the battlefield a mess of electrical sparks, poisonous gas clouds, columns of flame and spires of ice. It’s pure pandemonium and an awful lot of fun.
There is, however, one big problem with the game. Right now, the game only has a single save slot – which means that if you try to jump into multiplayer, the game will erase your single player progress. Your level and stats and whatever new characters you unlock remain, but your collected spells and progress vanish.
With most of the game’s unlocks in the back half of the story, it means the best way to approach the game is to play through the single player alone first – using it as an extended tutorial – and then play the game again with friends. Given how entirely pedestrian it is alone, you may not want to do that.
Once you have played online though, your save becomes online only, and you can’t just jump back into single player without starting all over again. Again. Start a game in local co-op, and you can only play it that way, unless you want to start anew. It’s frankly baffling, and is a serious detriment to the game’s enjoyment, especially on the Switch. Thankfully, developer FrozenByte has addressed the problem, and will be patching the save game issue in the new year. Until then, Nine Parchments is a difficult game to recommend, particularly on a platform as portable as the Switch.
Last Updated: December 8, 2017