As those of you who read my "Demo Hotness" posts know, I love a good demo and there have been many occasions when getting to play a free sample has me sold on a game that otherwise didn't catch my attention (e.g. Doom, Puyo Puyo Tetris, Mercenaries Saga, etc). Nine Parchments' demo reeled my wife and me in and the full game managed to keep my family of gamers (ages 28 to 60) entertained for much of Christmas vacation; that's no small feat.
Nine Parchments is a co-op twin-stick shoot'em-up set in the same universe as the Trine series. Players travel through the game's fantasy worlds blasting enemies with magic spells on a quest to recover the titular set of mystical documents. Each character starts with three spells of different elements and gets to add more to their arsenal each time another parchment is collected. Since the choice of spells that are unlocked with each parchment are randomly generated from over 50 possible spells, no two playthroughs of the campaign are exactly alike. Killing enemies and finding treasure provides XP that allows characters to be further customized with special perks and buffs.
While co-op shoot'em-ups are certainly nothing new, Nine Parchments' spell system is what sets it apart. Working with your teammates to select the right spells for a given situation is the name of the game since each enemy has its own weaknesses and each spell has different side effects (freezing, shock, poison, splash damage, etc). The spells also vary in terms of how rapidly they consume mana and how long it takes for them to recharge. Thus, rotating through the arsenal of spells efficiently is key. Making matters even more complicated is the fact that friendly fire is always on, so players have to coordinate in order to avoid setting each other on fire with heat beams or getting caught in an ice grenade blast.
My family found that Nine Parchments' combination of mechanics made for some really fun, frantic, and brutally tough co-op sessions for two or three players. Increasing the team size to four players proved to be a bit too much as the on-screen chaos made it difficult to keep track of the action and seemed to throw off the game balance since the game scales the number of enemies spawned to the number of players. Some of the game's boss fights, in particular, provided a challenging but rewarding scenario in which to coordinate and maintain situational awareness. However, in a few cases, the game's camera struggled to keep all players on the screen which made some of these battles more difficult than they needed to be. There were a few other minor technical issues in the game's later levels that we had to work around (that are supposedly going to be patched out soon) but for the most part, none of these were significant enough to sour the overall experience.
From an artistic standpoint, I didn't expect much from a co-op shoot'em-up, but it was foolish of me to underestimate the studio that brought us the Trine series. Nine Parchments looks absolutely gorgeous. Each stage is colorful and highly detailed even though it's viewed from an overhead perspective and will often be obscured by waves of enemies and explosions. The game also features a quality orchestral score that helps give the campaign an appropriate magical adventure vibe. The game's story of wizards-in-training trying to recover lost magic scrolls comes off as a sort of Harry Potter-lite but is by no means the focus of the game. Even though the story takes back seat, the voice acting for the narrator and one-liners for the player characters are pretty good.
Overall, we found that Nine Parchment's combination of chaotic action, teamwork, spell mechanics, and character customization to be fun and highly addictive. These factors coupled with the strong visual and audio presentation easily outweighed some of the game's technical issues. If you have a group of friends or family members that are up for a challenge and work well together, I highly recommend checking out Nine Parchments.
Completion Time: About 10 hours