Wherein I played a video game demo

Ever since the fall of the Xbox 360, I barely play game demos any more. Mostly because they just don’t seem to put out as many as before. Or maybe I’m just crazy. It seemed like every XBLA game had a demo, which I really miss now. Though if every indie game on Switch had a demo, and I played them all, I’d no longer have any time for full games. (The implication is that there are lots of indies on Switch)

I did download and play a demo for a new indie game on Switch last night, though. It’s called Nine Parchments, made by the same guys who did the Trine games. Which I never played. Anyway, I decided to give Nine Parchments a shot because it looked a whole lot like Gauntlet Legends. As you may or may not recall, Gauntlet Legends has a very special place in my heart and I am constantly on the lookout for more modern games that fill that same niche.

Sadly, I find myself stuck on the fence about whether or not Nine Parchments is for me. There are a lot of things about it that I like! But something about it doesn’t feel quite right, you know? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what, but I’ll circle back around to that later.

Starting up the demo was a hard first strike for the game. You’re given two character options, both of which are unattractive. You either pick doofy wizard boy, or wizard girl with a way-too-poofy cloak. I ended up going with the girl because her spell loadout seemed better. She got a Death Beam, a Lightning Blast, and a Healing Circle. I don’t know if those are the actual names, but I’m pretty sure my names at least make it clear what each one does.

After you pick a character, you also get to choose a hat and a staff. Being the demo, I wasn’t allowed to use any of either, but there are tons of options for each. I won’t lie, the idea of collecting them all got me a little hard. Then you have to go through a boring tutorial stage that is literally just walking forward for two minutes and hitting four targets with a magic spell. You can look at some books to make little tips appear, but meeeeeeh.

Once you get into the actual demo stage, things take a turn for the better. It’s a lush beach world with all sorts of vividly-coloured plants and corals, and it’s just beautiful. The character design may be off-putting, but the backgrounds are gorgeous. Being the demo, this stage is also pretty straightforward. You hop down a couple ledges, but mostly it’s just walking to the right as you kill off any monsters in your way. Apparently there were hidden treasures and baubles that I missed, so there are likely some well-hidden paths somewhere. Anyway, given that characters can jump and warp-dash, I’m expecting that later levels will have some more complex layouts and possibly even platforming challenges.

Following the main stage, you’re treated to a boss encounter, and I’ve got to say that it was a heck of a lot less annoying than the bosses in Gauntlet Legends. It was not overpowered, it didn’t have way too much HP, and I didn’t need a special item to hack off a third of its life. Actually, if anything, it was too easy. It alternated between two attacks, which were easy enough to dodge on their own, but made the field a little harder to navigate because their effects lingered for a while. So it was a pretty decent boss while I played solo, though it likely would have gone down in about five seconds flat with four players blasting it all at once.

What I don’t like about Nine Parchments is that its combat is entirely magic-based, and you have a mana limit for each spell. So instead of just attacking forever, you’ll attack until your mana is depleted, swap to your next spell, fire that off until it’s empty, and then repeat. Mana refills automatically, but it’s still a bit of an annoyance that you have attack limits. Especially since regular monsters seem to have about twice as much HP as they should. I should mention that your guy does have a weak little punch attack too, but it’s basically worthless.

Now, I think what really turns me off about the game, and it’s probably the most subjective part of this whole spiel, is the enemy distribution. What I liked about Gauntlet Legends is that you’re one man against screenfuls of monsters. You chop through them all in one or two hits, but there are so many, and they spawn forever until you find and explode the hole they’re pouring out of. It’s generally mindless, but I find that it’s a great way to kick back and have some good old-fashioned arcade-style fun. Nine Parchments, however, sees fit to just toss two or three monsters in at a time, each of them with the previously mentioned twice as much health as necessary. And by twice as much, I mean roughly seven seconds of a sustained Death Beam, whatever that equals out to. And that’s just the measly little goblin guys. Yeah, that problem will be mitigated by having even one other player, but it’s still just not as fun to blast your way through the monster hordes when said “horde” is three monsters at a time.

So I’m squarely on the fence about this one. Nine Parchments seems like a fine game, but it’s not quite what I’m looking for. I can see myself enjoying it, but on the other hand, Hammerwatch comes out on Switch tomorrow, and that game is exactly what I’m looking for. I think I enjoyed playing Hammerwatch on PC even more than I did the 2014 Gauntlet reboot. Nine Parchments is also a whopping $25 to Hammerwatch’s much more appealing $12, so. Maybe I’ll eventually give Nine Parchments a go, but it’s not going to be in 2017. Having people to play with would be nice too, but hey, we all know that I don’t really do the whole “friends” thing.

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