Review: Gift of Parthax

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Review copy provided by publisher

Magic is as ubiquitous in games as guns or swords, but unique representations of it can be few and far between. I very much appreciate games like Lichdom: Battlemage and Magicka which offer new ways to sling spells and combine your powers on the fly. I believe that was the intention behind Gift of Parthax, an isometric arena-based magic battler, but it doesn’t seem to have been fleshed out as far as it needed to. While the spell customization is fun to experiment with, it turns out there’s not a lot of game to run those experiments in.

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The renegade wizard Arif and his wizard friend Veleus end up captured while trying to escape a kingdom bent on oppressing magic-users. They find themselves in the Colosseum of Parthax, a powerful and mysterious wizard himself. Veleus, being the stronger of the two, fights to earn their freedom but suffers a mortal blow for his trouble. With time running out to save his friend, Arif joins the competition and begins working his way through the ranks of the Colosseum. With a powerful command of the mystic elements and the runes that shape them, he might just have a shot at claiming the elusive Gift of Parthax and saving the life of his dear friend.

As you might expect from that description, the bulk of the game takes place within the confines of the Colosseum. Outside of battle there are a few locations Arif can visit, such as the dormitory where Veleus rests, a library to customize magic spells, and a shop to dole out useful potions and runes. It all serves as preparation or exposition though, and once you’re done puttering around it’s off to battle. The arena challenges are divided by season, with four regular battles and a boss battle for each. Surviving a battle earns you whatever gold you collected during the fight, as well as a new spell to play with.

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That means the true heart of the game is the combat, and it comes tantalizingly close to being very solid. The spells you earn run the gamut of flying rock shards, blazing meteors, enchanted spore-belching trees, and lighting storms, and each can be enhanced with runes to add more projectiles, make them home in, cause status effects, or just be bigger and badder. With four spells and a super spell at the ready, along with a very generous dash, you’ll have your choice in how you dispatch your enemies. But there’s not much variety in the enemies you face, with only four or five kinds per season. They all tend to be slow and fill the arena with shots that can be tricky to dodge with your tall hitbox, and fill the usual slots of dragons, boars, fire elementals, and so on.

It’s not that the combat is bad, per se, it’s that there’s so little to do with the spells you create. I made a shotgun blast of poisoned stone shards during the Summer season, and it was a hoot slamming clusters of rocks into enemies and watching them melt. But that was all I did for that season. I had made a perfectly effective spell, and the enemies didn’t really change from challenge to challenge. It’s always the same arena too, sometimes with rocks, sometimes without, and each of the four challenges per season is made up of four individual battles, too. That means you’re essentially fighting the same fight sixteen times to progress, and no amount of flashy spells in the world can save that.

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I want to reiterate that Gift of Parthax isn’t really a bad game, it just isn’t one that can hold my attention. As much as I appreciate being able to customize spells, the foes on the receiving end are not going to be entertaining enough to be worth it. It looks fine with a fairly detailed pixel art style, and sounds pretty good with appropriately pitched tracks. If the game had you doing anything more ambitious, like leaving the Colosseum on a proper adventure or even just touring other Colosseum for some variety, I would be much more engaged. As for now, there’s not enough to hook me in the story or the gameplay, and I would be remiss not to warn you that the same could happen to you.

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