Frozenbyte’s top-down co-op action offering stands arguably as Nintendo Switch’s best party game.
Nine Parchments is described as a co-op action-RPG game, but that fact might undersell its true placement on the totem pole of Nintendo Switch’s best party games. The downside lies in its single-player experience which leaves a lot to be desired, bordering on the repetitive with not much to look forward to when contemplating upgrading your very own spell-caster after the main journey has been completed.
Frozenbyte, the developers behind Has-Been Heroes has decided to go back to their roots with a game that is based on the world of Trine, but that plays more like their freshmen and sophomore efforts in Shadowgrounds and Shadowgrounds: Survivor with a top-down view and more action oriented gameplay.
Nine Parchments casts you into the shoes of a wizard-in-training in a quest to obtain new powerful spells by collecting the Nine Parchments that have been scattered throughout the game world and guarded by magical beasts that must be defeated along the way. The premise is simple enough to follow and the characters endearing enough to make you want to step into their shoes, with even more of them available to unlock through completing specific goals or side quests.
There are eight wizards in total, each with four distinct variations for a total of 32 different options. Most of those characters must be unlocked in one way or another, but the ‘Unlocks’ section provides you with specific details on what criteria must be satisfied. With just three spells to start but over 40 abilities to be had, the characters are able to level up in quick enough fashion that you can gain access to more powerful magic in no time.
There’s also treasure chests, quilts and magical staffs scattered throughout the game world, and although a second play-through might be required to discover them all, the game is linear enough that it will be hard to miss them.
But its this linearity that sometimes is frustrating because, although the game itself can be classified as an ‘indie’ offering, the mechanics and gameplay is clever and fun enough that it could be catapulted into the same stratosphere as games like Diablo and Baldur’s Gate, if more was available.
Let me explain.
The game features scores of enemies, each with different powers, abilities and immune to specific elemental attacks, which challenges the players to swap between their own spells until they find the most effective combination to defeat their foe. Boss battles welcome the players at the end of each journey and are challenging enough that you will die many times over until finally achieving victory.
And although what is there is entertaining and well worth the price of admission, you are left craving for more. This is because there is some untapped potential hidden behind the curtains. The top-down view of the game world let’s you get a glimpse of the surroundings and how big the world can be, but you are force to travel a linear path and hardly ever get to branch off in a different direction, even though some sections of the game that you will visit later are visible in the distance.
Quests are limited to unlocking characters and hardly ever expand on the story. A bigger game world could be populated with an assortment of NPCs to give life to the narrative and task the player with additional exploration, effectively increasing the playing-time of the game and allowing us to devote even more hours into it, something that I want to do after finishing the game.
The game shows you which items you are yet to obtain and specific achievements to complete, but the only real way for you to go back to areas of the game you already completed is by either starting the game from scratch or going to the ‘Choose game’ section under Multiplayer and hope that someone is currently playing in the location you need to visit.
When it comes to leveling up your character, it is a pretty straight forward endeavor, with no real payoff at the end. Most of the beasts can be defeated with your basic spells, and there are no real bosses outside of the main story ones. Missing are the ‘Ultima Weapon’ type beasts to challenge you into submission, or the ability to become gods among men by unlocking your absolute potential.
The latter part of the game has more chaos happening on screen with scores of enemies all susceptible to different elemental abilities, but it is on this part that the game starts to suffer. We encountered bugs where enemies would glitch on the screen and even a section that we had to reply numerous times because the screen would not advance even after all the enemies in the immediate area had been defeated. Outside of that, the game manages to run well on Switch both when docked and on the go.
If it sounds like I’m nitpicking on certain aspects of the game, it very well could be given that the game is only $19.99 and a lot of fun, but I believe that Frozenbyte has a diamond in the rough that with enough polish could even challenge the big boys of the genre.
How best to play the game.
Nine Parchments might look like a harmless fantasy game, and can certainly satisfy someone who plays the game alone, but it is meant to be played together with family and friends. I cannot stress enough how much I had playing the game together with three other people, and although friendly fire can be avoided to certain extent through the gameplay settings, I would suggest leaving it on as the stakes are raised and shouting matches can ensue based on who is accidentally (or purposely) shooting someone else.
With more players on-screen comes an increase of enemies and difficulty, and if you thought you died enough times playing solo, get ready to adventure at the pace of a snail in multiplayer, as the game will give you flashbacks of Dark Souls with the amount of times your character will perish.
Nine Parchments’ mastery comes in the way the action opens in the game with different abilities at your disposal which can be alternated in a whim to give you real satisfaction on how your very own wizard disposes of enemies throughout the game. But the game shines brightest when playing co-op and sharing the experience with friends in the same room, as the tension between your teammates can escalate to hilarious shouting matches as not only you try to evade enemy attacks, but also friendly fire. Nine Parchments is Nintendo Switch’s best party game.
Nine Parchments is available on the Nintendo Switch eshop for $19.99.