From the off, there’s no mistaking this is a game set in the Trine universe. The gorgeous purples and blues of the title screen immediately recall the previous games, with some stunning art direction all creating a sense of weight and place to the world. Frozenbyte are simply superb at crafting interesting, nicely detailed and interesting environments and characters; that legacy continues here. Across the multiple locations on offer all serve up a real treat, with bright, detailed areas hiding experience chests and hidden quills. Each level is strictly linear though, even if it does look like there may be a few hidden shortcuts.
Trying to go through these just has you run into an invisible wall. It would have been a nice addition, somewhere to hide extra goodies or challenges, but really this only becomes apparent on subsequent playthroughs as unless you play on higher difficulties the enemy patterns are the same, leading you to try to explore the levels more. Levels are short too, most taking no more than about 10 minutes to get through. It keeps the game running at a brisk pace, never allowing you to stick around one area for too long and keeping the world visually interesting. After a few standard levels, you encounter a boss battle. It’s here where you gather the titular parchments, picking one of a selection of 3 random extra powers up to a total of (have you guessed yet?) 9.
Boss battles are fun, short bursts of constant combat that are a test of your mastery of all of your available abilities up to that point. Alone, they can prove challenging as moving and keeping a constant attack going can be overwhelming, but in co-op they really come in to their own. Speaking of which, this is a co-op game through and through. Fun to play alone, it really comes into its own when joined with up to 4 people. Aside from powers each character starts with, you can customize them fairly extensively. Magic staves and hats are unlocked through play, each offering up different perks and buffs to complement your playstyle. Co-ordinate with your team and you can create some powerful combos.
Drop an area of effect spell, them combine your frost and spark beams into one to make quick work of most of the cannon fodder. Different enemy types have various resistances which must be overcome too. Some of the bigger types also cast extra shield buffs in an AOE also, resulting in the need to switch up attacks as defenses are broken. Brilliantly, these can be made use of by the players too. All attacks, healing and defensive spells affect anyone in their range, friend or foe. Lay a healing circle down and an enemy can easily sit in it and become practically invincible. AI isn’t smart enough to actively search these types of tactics out, thankfully, but in the heat of battle it’s easy to cause havoc on both sides.
Trine was well known for its superbly implemented physics puzzles, and Nine Parchments magic combo system is just as much of a winner here. Using the various elements and coming up with your own combos makes the combat fun and engaging, even just fighting the regular grunts. Though you are just following a narrow path, stopping every few feet to deal with another batch of enemies, the freedom to experiment and adapt on the fly keeps the interest high. Players have access to a dodge too, skipping you form one side of the screen to another, on its own cooldown. It’s a handy tool for making a quick escape, however going into the options and assigning it to skip you in the direction you are running is a must.
By default, it shoots you where you are aiming with the right stick and as you are usually aiming at enemies, takes you straight to them! Finally, a melee attack rounds out your options, but getting close enough to use it usually ends up in taking massive damage and falling. When this happens, a teammate must stand close enough to you for a few seconds to revive you. Handily, the downed members will teleport to nearby allies if the battle separates you for too long, giving players the best possible chance to get back into the action. Should all team members fall a last chance is granted, one random member being resurrected in the hope of reaching the next checkpoint and reviving the team in full. Even though the levels are short, checkpoints are generous; you’ll never likely to have to repeat more than a couple of minutes.
Despite this, on occasion you will find that you’ll be thrown into a battle and just get overwhelmed instantly. Enemies will spawn around you and much the same as players can combine attacks, the AI will just launch an armada, pretty much insta-killing you. Last chance comes into use here, but sometimes it just serves to give the AI another chance to barrage you. Planning your attack beforehand is key, and a second attempt is generally enough to figure this out, but it can be frustrating when you literally have no chance to protect yourself. A minor niggle for sure, but still one that stuck out throughout my playthroughs.
Nine Parchments is an excellent co-op adventure game with a fantastic combat system, beautiful environments and a wonderful melodic soundtrack. There’s a lot to see and unlock, and just trying out different character and spell combos will take multiple playthroughs. This game will surely be a popular choice for group play.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.