Dare to go down the rabbit hole? (N4G Review)
*Note: As it currently stands, I am not able to complete the game (reasons explained below). Despite that, I’ve been told to impart my impressions of it and what I’ve experienced thus far (no timeframe for patch has been released yet). *
I find it rather peculiar how the protagonist’s chief anxiety in the beginning of Daedalic Entertainment’s “The Night of the Rabbit” slightly mirrors my current gaming situation. For him: the threat of repetitive tasks in school looms overhead as his summer vacation nears its closing; for me: the risk of several shoot-y titles that interest me overwhelming what little freedom I have in my gaming schedule. And as this delightful young hero seeks a quest to fulfill his childhood dreams, so too am I brought back to the whimsy of a respected genre that I was most conversant with in my pastime: the point-and-click adventure.
“Can this be true?” you may wonder.
Indeed, fellow readers, it is! Despite the plethora of action games I’m more than familiar with now, I certainly wasn’t always focused on those. Thanks to a developer known as Humungous Entertainment, my face was equally glued to televisions and computer screens back in the day. Putt-Putt, Sly Fox, Freddi Fish, and Pajama Sam are some of the most treasured franchises of my childhood. Although it would be unfair to expect it, I couldn’t help but wonder if Night would be able to transport me back to such a time. Despite a few tremendous speed bumps along the way, I must admit it brought out the kid in me quite often.
After an enigmatic beginning, the tale shows the central character, a twelve year old named Jeremiah Hazelnut, talking about his aspirations to become a magician. After picking blackberries for his mother, Jerry discovers a strange letter requiring him to complete a bizarre set of tasks. Soon after it’s been completed, he discovers a bipedal, rabbit magician: the Marquis de Hoto. After being offered an apprenticeship to his beloved trade, Hazelnut agrees to embark on a magical adventure with his newfound master. Soon thereafter, Jerry leaves his reality behind and is transported to the lively, shrunken world of Mousewood, home to a variety of anthropomorphic woodland creatures. “On a day of summer vacation, anything is possible,” states de Hoto. He’s certainly right about that.
If there’s ever one quality to hold even the simplest of point-and-click adventures up it’s the story. Even though the saccharine air of following around a charming child intends that the game’s audience be broadened to almost all ages, it’s surprising to see what types of plot elements are used in this tale. One of the interesting nuances in the lore behind everything is how each world is connected by trees. The logic here is that certain tree roots have burrowed so deep underground that they’ve found pathways into other realms. This framework with some clever foreshadowing sprinkled throughout later cultivates a darker tale pitting Jerry against some rather heart-wrenching losses. The balance maintained here is what I admired most. Sure, there are the requisite talking creatures with good humor (like Churchmouse and Son) and the sugary construction of a children’s story throughout the very beginning, but that feeling doesn’t stay for too long once bad omens and other secrets begin to add a few layers of mystery.
Story doesn’t necessarily go off without a hitch, however. The most annoying facet was just how underused such an intriguing, magical foundation felt in regards to exploring new places. Outside of the core ‘hub’ of Mousewood, locales dedicated to progress Jerry’s training vary from ice to rolling green hills but only have one or two places to roam (which are cramped spots anyways) and are transiently paced to only have one puzzle before leaving. This dulls the rather grand, sweeping adventure promised by de Hoto’s initial speech—that was bolstered by epic background music—into feeling rather conservative at times.
The hand-drawn aesthetics are the best aspect of the game. From beginning to end, the panoply of different environments, regardless of how underused some may have been, felt like they came right out of a children’s fairy tale. Seeing the quaint Mousewood, its important buildings carved out of tree roots, and the surrounding area always displayed a certain charm. Although the genre has often dabbled in 2.5D type designs, Night keeps to the flat 2D script for the betterment of the art style. The technical side doesn’t fare as well under…any scrutiny. Animations can feel rather mechanical, frame rate issues would sometimes occur, and there’s a plethora of bugs towards the end. Nearing the end of the game, I experienced what can only be described as a cocktail of anomalies: pixelated blocks cover up the landscape, replicas of a certain characters can litter the entire background (momentarily or otherwise), dialogue text can look like an alien language, and much more. Once I initially encountered this problem, all of my saved games became plagued with similar problems; in turn, making me restart the game in the hopes of getting past it. It’s truly a shame to see a game brimming with such visual character to be so drastically harmed by these problems after a relatively smooth experience the nine to ten hours of playtime beforehand.
Sound design also retains a characteristic perfect to the setting. Although the euphonious de Hoto’s Victorian-age line delivery was charming, chief praise should be given to how fitting Hazelnut’s dialogue and voice acting turned out (voice actor is almost the same age as the character too). Even when ruining the pilfering lifestyle of a leprechaun in Mousewood or some other innocuous mistake, he contains that childlike innocence of apologizing for virtuous missteps. Most of the other loquacious side-characters are imbued with personalities the voice actors, mostly a British ensemble, adequately perform. The soundtrack also deserves much recognition. Although it may not be accolade-worthy for this year, the range of different tracks all fit into selling—and in some cases, overselling—the sense of adventure instilled in the fairytale-esque setting.
Despite enjoying the large portion of the story I’ve experienced, one qualm that stuck out during the beginning of the adventure is the tasks demanded by the plot that harmed the design of certain puzzles. Upon reaching Mousewood, your first big mission is actually divided between two simple, yet terribly drawn-out tasks. The problem with that sort of narrative design is the lack of focus. So early on, almost all of the key locations are given to the player without the proper means of funneling the necessary objects or clarifications at the right time. This ultimately caused the first important leg of the journey to rely on luck of giving X object to Y character instead of that wonderful “a-ha” feeling of cleverly discovering the solution. What’s even worse is how unhelpful the hint system was in each mission. The typical result of using the ‘Advice Seeker’ spell was just a slight rewording of the task I needed to accomplish. It’s hardly any different than having someone speak out your current objective(s) when you hit the pause button in almost every other game.
As time passes, it becomes easier to remain directed solely on one task at a time. These moments are where certain conundrums are easier to understand since spells are important to progress forward. Maintaining a sharp mind on what your powers and items entail leads to some wonderful discoveries. Although it clumsily hands out a few of its early puzzles to the point of great frustration, the solutions are still quite clever when you figure out how to manage them.
You can certainly tell Lucasarts’ classics and such inspired Daedalic’s title here, to the detriment of its gameplay not really having anything seem refreshing. “Just point and click. It’s that simple!” states the fun radio tutorial at the beginning. Although there are two options for certain actions, I opted to use all the control keys dedicated to the mouse. Naturally, the right-click is the main interact/grab and use item in inventory key while left-click acts as cancel/view item in inventory key. Beyond that, scrolling the mouse wheel up or down displays the inventory and pressing the wheel results in Jerry using his magical coin. Acting as another in-game hint system, the coin highlights every object in the world you can view or grab with magical iridescence. It and the Advice Seeker still don’t provide legitimate hints to tougher puzzles, but it is a good way to see all undiscovered interactions. To remove some of the clutter, a dynamically changing reticule is emplaced so interactions and inventory browsing are simple. A small visual wrinkle, but helpful nonetheless.
Outside of the main story, Night’s extras to bolster value are fair. There are superfluous extras like finding stickers and dewdrops, which is tied to a plot secret. Outside of that, a card game called Quartets (their version of Go-Fish) allows you to challenge most characters within the game and collect well-decorated cards. And finally, eight audio books called “Mousewood Stories” offer a deeper backstory to the game’s fantasy. These may be considered completionist filler to some, but it’s rather considerable given that this twenty-dollar game’s length already lands at around ten or more hours.
Regardless of design frustrations, The Night of the Rabbit will certainly not be considered an offensive waste of your time—probably even a good time if the technical problems don’t occur for you. Anyone well-versed in point-and-clicks, from older touchstones to more recent, can see it was content with the genre’s conventions. The most unfortunate aspect—aside from not being able to (currently) finish the game—is the incongruity of it managing multiple tasks at one time. Even with such problems, the great qualities in music, visuals, and characters were able to consistently bring back the good ‘ole days feeling. And if your game background closely resembles something of my past described in the beginning, I’m positive your reaction will be similar.