Have you ever had one of those days where everything goes wrong? You know, where you’re plagued by angry cats, you accidentally destroy a priceless artifact at your job, and then a bunch of mummies try to strangle you while you start turning into a cat yourself? The life of a museum security guard is a rough one in 9 Lives: Casey and Sphynx for Android devices, a new release from Hungry Moose Games (a TriplePoint client). It sounds like a game where the unending parade of accidents and problems would get you down, but thanks to some clever design, attractive aesthetics, and the excellent inclusion of Green Throttle support, Casey and Sphynx keeps things cheerful by doing plenty of stuff right.
To elaborate slightly on the story, the title characters in Casey and Sphynx are Casey, a clumsy security guard at the local history museum, charged with guarding an idol of the cat goddess Bastet, and Sphynx, a dark-furred feline also charged with protecting said idol. Unfortunately, Casey wastes no time at all in tipping over and shattering the idol, unleashing any number of problems: angry spirits now roam the museum, Casey is now slowly turning into a cat, and he’s also stolen Sphynx’s nine lives. This story is told in comic cutscenes featuring playful art and amusing “buddy movie” dialogue between the two characters (since, as a cat-in-progress, Casey can now understand Sphynx). Hungry Moose is a studio made up of former BioWare veterans, and while the story on display might not be a Mass Effect-grade epic, it’s still quite engaging and serves to get things moving.
Once the motivations are established, Casey and Sphynx jumps right into the gameplay, puzzle-platforming its way through the bowels of the now-cursed museum. The cat and clod must amble, jump, and fight through air ducts, storage rooms, caverns, and more, using a good set of co-op platforming mechanics, playable either in co-op or by swapping between the characters Lost Vikings style. Casey can push heavy boxes and manipulate human tools, while Sphynx can slip through narrow passages, climb carpets hanging on the wall, and perch atop her pal’s head. Oh, and Casey can die repeatedly.
This is the featured mechanic that is central to many of the Casey and Sphynx puzzles: due to the transfer of Sphynx’s nine feline lives, Casey now has the ability to perish mid-level, and then come back and use his corpse as a travel aid. A prime example is with spike pits — a long bed of impaling spikes may be too wide to leap across, but if Casey bites it halfway through, his hole-riddled body will remain gruesomely resting atop the trap… so that, on his next life, he can jump on his own dead torso to avoid the same fate. Evoking similar genre entries like The Swapper and P.B. Winterbottom, it allows Casey and Sphynx to really stretch its creative muscles and offer challenges outside the player’s expectation.
It’s not all pushing boxes and flipping switches, though, especially with the aforementioned corpse mechanic — there’s plenty of platforming in this particular puzzle-platformer, and it’s here that the decision to include Green Throttle support really shines. Traversing some of Casey’s obstacles can be tricky, and while you can simply just keep failing often enough that a solid carpet of bloated cadavers will keep you safe, being able to execute careful, tightly controlled jumps can help you save some lives for when you really need them. Being able to nimbly hop on narrow ledges or boxes using the Atlas from Green Throttle (another TriplePoint client) really puts Casey and Sphynx in a league with console classics like Lost Vikings, and being able to play it on a big screen with a pal to control the second character really seals the deal.
Casey and Sphynx is yet another excellent example of what ‘mobile’ gaming can mean when compared to its contemporaries, and it’s out now.