During the 90s, Point and Click adventure games were one of the most dominant genre on the PC market. Titles like The Secret of Monkey Island, Full Throttle, and Myst, which all derived from that era, are rightly considered timeless classics. Nowadays, interest in the genre is arguably at an all-time low. Yet, there remains a small, dedicated fanbase that is eager to keep the flame alive. And it’s love letters like Nine Noir Lives that purr-fectly match this cat-egory.
Developed and published by South African based company Silvernode Games, Nine Noir Lives blends noir aesthetics with cat-tastic comedy writing. It is easily one of the most charming, entertaining, and hiss-terical graphic adventures I have played in recent memory.
Curiosity killed the cat.
Set within the bustling feline metropolis of Meow Meow Furrington, Nine Noir Lives sees us taking on the lead role of Private Investigator, Cuddles Nutterbutter. He, along with his trusty assistant Tabby, have been assigned onto a murder case as a last-minute replacement. The unfortunate victim, Edgar Montameeuw of the Montameeuws gang, has been found dead in his father’s establishment.
It is initially suspected that a rival criminal organisation called the Catulets are behind this attack. This leads the Chief of Police, nervous about an inner-city gang war, to ban all law enforcement officers from getting involved. However, as the case unravels, more questions arise. With nobody else to turn too, it’s up to the collective minds of Cuddles and Tabby to figure out what truly happened on that fateful night.
Mixing Noir with comedy.
From the outside looking in, the narrative may appear to be rather cliched and worn out, as similar stories have been done a dozen times over. But the further you delve into Nine Noir Lives, the more it’ll reward you with genuinely shocking moments, and an abundance of laughs. The cat centric references are also used as a device to drive the plot forward, and it does so rather ingeniously.
A prime example of this can be found in the NPC who has a catnip addiction. Rather than brushing this off as a throwaway joke, the game treats this like a serious problem. This is because catnip is equated at the same level in their world, as heroin is in ours.
While it might seem preposterous to claim, using terminologies like catnip was a major factor in immersing me into their universe. Furthermore, it showcased the developers had the cognisance of knowing when to be comedic, and when to be respectable. For this, I feel it necessary to commend Silvernode Games on their wherewithal.
Strut around like you own the place.
As a PI, you have to find leads via interrogating NPCs, exploring crime scenes, and solving miniature puzzles. From there, you’ll start to formulate a manifesto on who might have committed the murder. Needless to say, this is easier said than done.
To help you achieve this, you have 4 actions which you can perform freely. These are navigating, looking, talking/interacting, and finally, licking. That’s right, licking. Our fuzzy protagonist is addicted to licking any and all objects he can find. For the most part, the action itself serves no purpose, but it is humorous to see the other cats’ reactions.
Naturally, you’re all but guaranteed to run into a few roadblocks. If you ever find yourself particularly stumped, then you have the option to toggle on the ‘Story Mode’ setting. This provides you with hints about what to do next, so you can always keep the ball moving. You’ll still have to clear the puzzles in this mode, although, I never found those to be difficult or unbalanced. On the whole, if you view Nine Noir Lives like an interactive movie, then you’ll get a lot out of it.
Cat class and cat style.
As die hard fans will know, Point and Click adventure games often live and die by their story and art direction. When it comes to the latter, finding something that catches the eye of the audience is ridiculously tricky to accomplish. In the case of Nine Noir Lives, it successfully manages to pull this off, all while capturing the atmosphere of the narrative.
Each of the locales in the game, including everything from the environments to the interactable props, are expertly hand drawn. It’s curated in such a way that it replicates 30s style film noir posters, albeit with a retro neon flair. The use of vibrant colours only serves to highlight the set pieces intricate detailing. In truth, the various regions are high enough quality that anyone of them would work as a desktop background.
Outside of the scenery, the user interface has also been skilfully crafted. The different elements that comprise the UI, such as the text boxes, inventory, cursor, and even the menus, all react fluidly. Moreover, they also match the games visual and thematical presentation greatly.
I can’t say I’m a massive fan of the character designs. They aren’t necessarily bad, and nor are the unmemorable, but they are a noticeable downgrade in comparison to the backdrops. One thing they do have going for them is their ability to pop out on screen. While this might sound irrelevant, it effectively ensures you won’t accidently overlook any characters to engage with.
Meowrvalous voice acting.
If Nine Noir Lives had excluded voice acting for budgetary reasons, I don’t think anyone would have blamed them. This is why it was all the more surprising to discover that Silvernode Games had not only hired VAs, but that they’d recorded voiceovers for every single line of dialogue. All 125,000 words of it. What’s more, the actors themselves brought their absolute A game.
Clearly, Hermit Collective, which, admittedly, I hadn’t never heard of before, more than filled their quota in hiring exceptionally talented individuals. There are a handful of recognisable voices to be found, such as popular YouTuber ProZD, and anime aficionados Brett Bauer and Nancy Situ. We also have some fresh up-and-comers who more than hold their own alongside the veterans.
It really appears as though nobody wanted to up anyone else, but instead work together for the betterment of the narrative. The performances are bubbly, dynamic, and full of life, yet carefully approached to match their visual counterparts. It’s for that reason that props also most go to the voice directors, Lucas Gilbertson and Carol-Anne Day.
Coincidentally, they also played the parts of Cuddles and Tabby. Their on-screen relationship was scarily lifelike, and they riffed off of each other near immaculately. I suppose that’s to be expected though when the actors in question are married.
The OST avoids cat-astrophe.
Composer Travis Ford DeCastro completes the noir ambiance through his work on the soundtrack. Each of the tracks employ the use of orchestral based instrumentation, with the brass and double bass placed front and centre to appropriately set the mood. This choice allows the OST to cover a wide range of genres, from jazz and blues, to big band and swing. I found myself stopping from time to time simply so I could listen into the background music.
Of course, the music found in Nine Noir Lives will be compared to titles like Grim Fandango and Discworld Noir. I cannot in good conscious say that this OST reached those levels for me personally. But, to give credit where its due, Travis has produced an excellent batch of tracks that complement the games ideologies to a T.
Nine Noir Lives is a fantastic contemporary take on the Point and Click genre. It masterfully blends comedy with intrigue, which culminate together in a captivating and suspenseful story. The characters are equally as entertaining, and are expertly performed by a talented array of voice actors. Artistically, the hand painted backdrops are absolutely stunning, and composer Travis Ford DeCastro does an immaculate job of complementing them through his music. For fans old and new to the genre, you owe it to yourself to play this game.