The eponymous heroes of 9 Lives: Casey and Sphynx aren't your typical video game double act. Casey is a tubby museum security guard with a fondness for milkshakes and a lumbering gait, while Sphynx is a 4,000-year-old cat.

But fate (or narrative contrivance) forces this unlikely pair together when Casey upends an ancient Egyptian idol.

True to convention, a powerful curse is unleashed, and some old world Freaky-Friday style voodoo ensues. The upshot is that Casey is gifted with Sphynx's nine lives - a handy boon given that undead mummies are roaming the museum's halls - but he's also turning into a cat.

This supernatural setup forms the narrative justification for 9 Lives's odd couple puzzle-platforming campaign, which plays for laughs from the outset.

Unfortunately, and despite the fact that developer Hungry Moose Games is composed of Bioware veterans, it's immediately clear that the writing isn't strong enough to support 9 Lives's comedic storytelling ambitions.

A sample line of early cutscene dialogue: "Right behind you Sphynx. I hope we win." You can practically feel scriptwriting students around the world wincing.


Unfortunately, a wooden script isn't the only issue affecting 9 Lives - its art style is equally off-putting. What's more, a combination of jerky animation and wonky collision detection conspires to ensure that 9 Lives looks faintly amateurish in motion.

The on-screen controls are also a problem. Whether you're controlling Casey or Sphynx - and you'll switch between both in the course of every level - the action is floaty and button-presses feel unresponsive.

Even opening your character's inventory - which is required in order to access hidden rooms filled with gleaming gems - can present a challenge. Tapping your avatar should do the trick, but sometimes the command simply won't register, or the overlaid virtual buttons will obscure the section of screen you're attempting to prod.

Finding yourself stood impotently in front of a room full of treasures, knowing that you possess the relevant item but still can't open the door, is a needlessly frustrating experience.

It takes two

The failings of 9 Lives belie a handful of game design victories, though. By allowing you to switch between both characters, Hungry Moose Games sets the stage for a couple of ingenious puzzle rooms.

They're the kind that will have you stumped at first, but basking in smug satisfaction once you've hit upon the solution - in other words, they strike a pleasing balance between difficulty and achievability.

These moments are the exception, though, and the character-switching mechanic makes them possible more often feels like a bit of a chore.

And despite making it into the game's title, Casey's nine lives barely affect the gameplay at all.

In theory, this feline resilience enables you to kill off Casey at will, leaving his body in a strategic location to aid you on your next attempt.

In practice, though, it's an underused mechanic, and after an early puzzle in which you make a bridge of Casey-corpses in order to cross a spiky cavern this promising gimmick is barely developed any further.

9 Lives is greater than the sum of its inadequate parts, and it's elevated slightly by the flashes of design savvy that shine through its underwhelming exterior every now and then.

But, sadly for this double-act, these flashes don't come close to excusing the game's many shortcomings.