Are you a fan of detective noir? Lover of cats? Long-time devotee of classic point-and-click adventure games with animals as the protagonists? Then look no further! Silvernode Studio’s feline-centred Nine Noir Lives serves up a mystery packed with catty puns and a Shakespearian backdrop, pulling out all the classic adventure genre tricks in the bag. If games like Backbone, Blacksad and Sam & Max are some of your favourites, Nine Noir Lives is sure to tickle your belly… errr, I mean fancy.
Meow Meow Furrington is a shady city, with filthy streets and crime on every corner. Filled to the brim with mobsters and catnip addicts, it almost serves as a character on its own. The city is run by two mafia families, the Montameeuws and the Catulets (Shakespeare buffs be still), who constantly battle each other. In the middle of this, we find our story’s hero, or rather antihero, Cuddles Nutterbutter, Meow Meow Furrington’s second-best private detective with a knack for solving crimes … and licking things.
Cuddles usually fills his days by serving cease and desist letters and bothering the local police department, but because his archnemesis, Alfonso Gibraltar – the city’s top private detective – is out of town, Cuddles is called in to investigate a murder at the local strip joint, The Knitty Kitty Club. When he arrives at the crime scene, it turns out that the victim is none other than the son of one of the mob bosses, Bartholomew Montameeuw, who also happens to own the club. Since the police are too afraid to touch the case, Montameeuw hires Cuddles to find the murderer, throwing him into a spiral of dubious catnip deals, feline trafficking and even darker crimes.
It’s safe to say that Cuddles isn’t the sharpest claw on the paw: he’s whimsical, aloof and sometimes just plain dumb. He has a habit of giving names to any helpful object, be it Ramon the diary recorder, Billy the brandy decanter or Oscar the stuffed pickle-plushie. When he is in need of a little catnap that lasts a whole day after a whole night of crime solving and clue hunting, his red-haired Nancy Drew-like assistant Tabby Marshmallow takes over the investigation. Tabby is everything Cuddles is not: she is savvy, intuitive and even carries brass knuckles she calls “the girls.” Equipped with more intellect and skill than Cuddles could ever dream of, her help proves to be essential for solving the case, along with her “paws on” way of handling things.
With its silly cat-puns and whimsical jokes, Nine Noir Lives is undeniably well-written. There are vending machines with cold milk, Mousezilla roaming the streets, and cats’ everlasting fear of cucumbers, just to mention a few of the funny things you can encounter. Unfortunately, the story isn’t as original as the dialogue and the rest of the content. As with other detective noir narratives, the tale of Nine Noir Lives has been told before. But that’s okay; as long as the writing is good, and the characters are as fun and delightful as they are, it’s easy to forgive the unoriginal story.
There are two game modes to choose from when you start playing, Story Mode and Normal Mode. Story Mode is, to quote: “If puzzles frustrate you,” and contains more hints and a short tutorial at the start, whereas Normal Mode is a bit more challenging, with fewer hints and more puzzles. No matter which difficulty you choose, you have a magnifying glass to help point out all interactive places in a scene, and a notebook where Cuddles’ (or Tabby’s) thoughts about the case are jotted down, to help you in case you need a refresher.
You can interact with objects and persons (or rather cats and other animals) by looking at them, using or talking to them – or licking them, and I do recommend licking as many things as you can, as you can encounter some genuinely ridiculous and ludicrous comments and reactions by doing so. Just, as Cuddles will point out, “don’t lick your employees, it’s in their contract.”
The puzzles in Nine Noir Lives are the typical kinds that you can find in other adventure games. You have the classic “put cog wheels in the right place” puzzle, and at one point you need to make a drink recipe from a book by collecting a couple of strange ingredients. For the most part, the gameplay is based on finding things and either giving them to other characters or using them somewhere. I played the game on the harder difficulty setting since I am not easily frustrated by puzzles, but even then they weren’t really that challenging. If I got stuck, it was usually because I didn’t think of using an item somewhere, or I had missed something in another location.
As with so many classic adventure games, you have an inventory where you can combine items, look at them, or use them in the environment, and a lot of the gameplay is based on a series of fetch quests. To acquire a needed item you have to help someone get what they want, and by doing so you need to do this and that, and so it continues. You also progress by talking to other characters, which is mostly entertaining because of the playful dialogue, though I found conversations were drawn out a bit too long sometimes. Thankfully, you can click to skip through the lines, but it occasionally still got a bit tedious. When I have the information I need, I get impatient if I have to listen to five more minutes of talking that doesn’t add anything to the game experience, even if it is funny.
Thankfully for a game so heavy on dialogue, the voice acting is really good. Every character, from Cuddles to mob boss Bartholomeuw Montameeuw, police cat Krakowski and the secretary Edna, to mention a few, are brilliantly portrayed through actors who make them come alive. Speaking of audio, if snazzy detective noir jazz is your thing, the music in Nine Noir Lives should be right up your cat alley. Almost every scene and location has its own excellent soundtrack, and the score is perfectly composed to fit the setting and atmosphere. With smooth saxophone riffs and jazzy piano, the soundtrack gives the game the perfect background ambience.
The graphical style of Nine Noir Lives is like a hand-drawn comic book, refined but still in a cartoonish aesthetic that fits the cute and playful game world. You’ll visit Cuddles’ office, where he goes to update Tabby on the case or take a little nap; Meowy’s Mporium, which is a store run by a raccoon who identifies as a cat; or you can stop in at the local theatre, called La Boule de Poils (meaning “The Hairball” for all you non-French-speaking cats), to name just a few of the colourful locales in Meow Meow Furrington.
All the settings are well-designed, so you won’t have to go pixel hunting or scour for hours for that one object you need to progress, though they’re so detailed that you may be thankful for the hotspot highlighter in case you overlook something. It is easy to navigate through the city, exiting a location by clicking at the far right or left of the scene to walk there, or leaving immediately by double-clicking. When you depart, a map of the city and the locations you can travel to pops up, which serves as a nice quick travel function and eases the frustration of any necessary backtracking.
Nine Noir Lives is a great and surprisingly substantial game overall, earning a place among the ranks of other classic adventures of its kind. I played for about twenty hours (although it would surely have been less if I had used hints or a walkthrough) and enjoyed almost all of that time, especially the witty sense of humour and the super-cute characters. Has the premise been done before? Yes. Is the story original and new? Nope. Still, Nine Noir Lives gives it a unique, whimsical spin with its Shakespearean feline motif and manages to entertain and satisfy all your adventure game needs.
Its story is far from original, but Nine Noir Lives is sure to make any point-and-click adventure fan purr with delight and keep them entertained for hours with its adorable characters, brilliant humour and high-quality production values.
- Charming and fun animal characters with great voice acting
- Brilliant jazzy soundtrack
- Beautiful artwork and cartoony graphical style
- Playful, fun-filled sense of humour
- Simple but entertaining puzzles
- A little too dialogue heavy at times
- Underlying story isn’t that original
Aurora played Nine Noir Lives on PC using a review code provided by the game’s publisher.