The Night of the Rabbit Review
Hop to it.
Over the course of this past week I’ve been wrestling with the notion of whether I was over point and click games or not. So much or so that I loaded up The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, just to see whether the process of piecing together inventory with the game’s environment to the tune of all those those old jokes still had some charm.
Guybrush Threepwood has aged rather well.
But the old SCUMM interface had not fared favourably with time. Even with the HD remake, stringing together a choice of nine different verbs for the task at hand is completely unnecessary by today’s standards. Streamlining the command process to allow more observation and experimentation with the inventory and environment is the way to do it these days.
Championing the return of the point and click adventure is German studio Daedalic Entertainment, who just last year sent us on the humorous escapade through Deponia. The crew in Hamburg, under the directorship of Matt Kempke, have left the science fiction themes in the dust in favor of magic and mystery. As with Daedalic’s previous games, the options of interaction with objects are restricted to the actions of looking or using, be it with characters, the environment or items in the inventory.
Despite the innocence of main character Jeremiah Hazelnut – a 12 year old boy on his last days of summer vacation – you can immediately tell this will be no simple child’s tale. Jerry begins his adventure by learning the ropes of the click mechanics and performing simple fetch quests for his mother. But Jerry dreams of being a magician you see, and his call is answered when a magical letter containing a cryptic poem arrives in his mailbox. A quick combination of locally sourced ingredients soon has him conjuring up a magical trunk and with it, the legendary Treewalker, the Marquis De Hoto. You are to become his apprentice, journeying through a portal to Mousewood where your training will take place. By the words of the Marquis – a human sized talking rabbit donning a flamboyant red tailcoat – “Nothing is impossible.”
I sometimes had to heed the Marquis’ advice and keep telling myself that nothing is impossible, because the realm of Mousewood seemed like it was constantly trying to convince me otherwise. The map suddenly sprawls into about a dozen scenes – all of them beautifully hand drawn – with very little direction or indication of which quests to prioritise. These types of adventure games must follow a set sequence in order for you to obtain the right objects in order to progress the game and will always assume you’re on the right path. Unfortunately for me, I wasn’t, which lead me to near flip-the-table frustration. A derogatory “Advice Seeker” spell was supposed to mitigate this, but all I was given was a rehash of a previous conversation with the Marquis. Talk to the locals of Mousewood he says, they’ll help and point you in the right direction.
The unfortunate pacing of the first chapter in Mousewood is especially hard to forgive after all those hours of walking in circles trying to click anything and everything.
The unfortunate pacing of the first chapter in Mousewood is especially hard to forgive after all those hours of walking in circles trying to click anything and everything. When I did have one of those cherished moments of actually figuring out the puzzle, I was hoping for the next magic key item to move me ahead in the plot. Not so. Mousewood was beginning to grind, I was finding myself swearing out loud at its cute and cuddly inhabitants to throw me a bone. It’s not all the games fault, I get that. My ability to think laterally and abstractly gains me no favours solving word riddles or ever finishing crosswords. But dammit, this is a game and I want to be entertained. Is there a balance between making every puzzle a cakewalk and making players think so far outside the box that they can’t see the box anymore? Probably, but Daedalic didn’t quite get there with The Night of the Rabbit. So close, though.
Bunny Not Boiled
But as much as I loathed the frustrating puzzles and their pacing, The Night of the Rabbit took me through a fascinating story filled with some of the most beautiful game art I have ever seen. Every scene has that magical personal touch; the way the frog mailman adjusts his tie, the socks and sandals on the bearded hippie, the glow of fireflies reflecting off the water. Even the way Jerry strolls through the countryside, it’s all so polished that you can’t help but have some affinity for the world and its characters.
The English voice acting has been a thorn in the side of Daedalic in past games with less than ideal localisation, but this time it was hard to fault it anywhere. The subtitles skipped a few times, but nothing that interrupted the extremely engaging story and script. And the ending! Oh the ending you have to see, it will make all those mentally taxing puzzles worth every effort.
The soundtrack was equally as appealing, the sweet melodies of Mousewood had me humming along well after I had shut down the PC. An operatic crescendo fades in every time you speak to the Marquis, an inclusion that helps you maintain the fantasy that you will one day walk the trees through distant worlds as he does.
While a town full of mice and squirrels may seem a little immature, there are plenty of adult undertones weaved into the plot. Rapid urbanisation, pollution and the destruction of natural habitat are all elephants in the room in different parts of the game and did make me think – albeit briefly – about what is happening to the planet. Our planet.
The Night of the Rabbit is not without its faults and its quirks go well beyond its abstract puzzle design. While the gameplay was far from perfect, this game deserves a look just to experience its sights and sounds.
A review code of The Night of the Rabbit was provided courtesy of Paradox Interactive.
Hop To It
Patience, dear gamers, is what will get you through The Night of the Rabbit. You cannot binge on this game unless you cheat with the walkthrough. If you can tough it out you'll get many, enjoyable hours providing you chip away at it bit by bit. This story is an opus for the ages, both artistically and narratively. The puzzling gameplay, however, stops The Night of the Rabbit from burrowing to greatness.