We return again to the reviews of one of our favourite genres (point 'n' click adventures, we are looking at you), since we were given the excuse again. We're talking about Nine Noir Lives, Silvernode Games' first adventure, the fruit of five years of effort by a fairly small team from South Africa. Perhaps in some galaxy the planets there were synchronized and pointed to the year 2022, there's no other explanation why so many interesting adventures were released in such a short period of time. Because Nine Noir Lives is another adventure game that fills us with very good impressions and leaves a strong legacy for even more adventures in the future.
The approach of Nine Noir Lives is not entirely original, as it chooses to tell a noir story, in which instead of the boring... hoomans, their place is taken by cats with human characteristics. I don't think we can cite a more striking example than Blacksad, but Nine Noir Lives opts for a lighter and more humorous style, while the population is "limited" by 95% to cute feline devils. After all, the town where the story takes place is called... Meow Meow Furrington, and the lead role is held by private investigator Cuddles (!) Nutterbutter.
An investigator who, regardless of his not-so-hard-core name, is always the second (not to say last) choice of the local police force for the cases they deal with. The consequence of this is that Cuddles takes on, for the most part, "harmless" cases, which correspondingly yield low compensation. The small office he maintains is a testament to this. Nevertheless, Cuddles is not losing his confidence and is convinced that one day he will get his big breakthrough.
The opportunity finally came, after a relatively quiet evening where Cuddles carried out an "unheard of" case of copying the... decoration of a low-level bar. The Chief of Police calls urgently to his office, where his ever-faithful secretary, Tabby Marshmallow, informs Cuddles of the incident. Things are very serious, as the son of mobster Bartholomew Montameeuws (wondering about the names? You shouldn't) has been found dead, and in fact, in the very nightclub that is the Montameeuws' point of operation. The only place where the scion of a mega-mafioso could be truly safe. The police are afraid to get involved, as there are suspicions that this heinous and brazen crime will trigger a possible crime war between the two major factions of the city, the Montameeuws and the Catulets, so the easiest solution is for an independent investigator to intervene in order to avoid bloodshed.
So Cuddles takes on the case of a lifetime, which will determine not only his own future, which he hopes will include him alive in the years to come, but also that of the entire city. A case that includes everything you'd expect from a noir story: femme fatale, dangerous secrets, mob murders, most of the boxes are ticked, always sprinkled with several doses of humor. The remarkable thing is that it manages to bring all the individual pieces together very cleverly, without overdoing it anywhere or falling into cheap drama and hasty conclusions. And the mystery is largely kept under wraps until just before the last act of the story, although suspicions are already beginning to form well before that. But that's the beauty of a "whodunnit" story, and Nine Noir Lives has read its lesson well.
The same consistent student is shown in the adventure element. The setup is the familiar one found in a point 'n' click adventure, with puzzle solving being a product of choosing the right question/answers against the various characters encountered and correct use/combination of items. The level of difficulty of the puzzles, although generally dependent on the experience one has in this particular genre of game, is in the medium to low range, with some exceptions that require a bit more...head scratching to find the solution. Especially if we're not observant enough in Cuddles' commentary or the details of each screen, we're likely to be stuck somewhere for hours.
However, there is a quite useful journal that keeps track of the current objectives that we need to complete, while giving some small hints, and before we start the adventure, we have the option to choose a story mode of some kind. What the story mode mainly does is generously fill the journal with more information, in case we just want to enjoy the story. Needless to say, it didn't even cross our minds to press yes to that button, so everything you read here is entirely about "orthodox" adventuring.
After all, there is no reason to rush. Nine Noir Lives is a fairly rich adventure in terms of the locations and things we take on, which can add up to eight quality hours by the time we watch the end credits. A number not bad at all, since we're talking about an indie adventure, which is also distinguished for its excellent level of writing, both in the narration and the protagonists' dialogues/monologues, and in its subtle humour, which is of course regularly enhanced by "cat" puns, but never overdone. And the characters we meet are extremely well-developed and convincing in their motivations, and some of them are truly brilliant, such as the old cat at the police station or the... "smart" raccoon who thinks he's a cat. There are also some welcome additions that sweeten the formula, such as the fact that in some cases we control Tabby instead of Cuddles, which of course requires a different approach to solving her problems. And decidedly more intelligent we might add.
On the controls matter, we have some objections, not particularly significant, but some decisions seemed a little outdated. Specifically, for all the actions we perform there are three verbs in the game: look, use and... lick (yes, we're talking about cats), which are alternated by pressing the right mouse button, along the lines of the old Sierra adventures.
At first, we did not like this approach, as we have become accustomed to one-click controls or at least having verbs appear by holding down the left button, however we soon got used to it and the reason is the small number of verbs - we never actually accepted it. If the verbs were five or six, then we would be talking on a different basis. Apart from that though, the other quality of life features you'd expect in a modern adventure exist as normal: hotspot indicator, click to skip to the next dialogue and double-click on exits for instant transition.
Moving on to the graphical aspect, Nine Noir Lives does a great job with its hand-drawn graphics. They're not state-of-the-art, but they do the job very well and in some locations, such as the theatre, the backgrounds look quite impressive. Anyway, the feline characters are detailed, neat and highly sympathetic and, aided by a very creditable voice-over for each of them, they make for an extremely enjoyable audiovisual result.
So, in essence, I think it's rather unnecessary to emphasize that if you're a fan of adventure games you ought to play Nine Noir Lives. Its quality is prominent, while the fact that its finale leaves clear indications for a sequel makes us look forward to the next adventure of Cuddles Nutterbutter. After all, he's still got a lot of lives to spend.