Reviews

The Night of the Rabbit – Review

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Platforms: PC
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: No
PEGO: 3+

Daedalic Entertainment. It’s a name that I’ve become very fond of lately, thanks to the company’s seemingly unstoppable desire to create point and click adventure games, keeping the ancient but classic  genre alive in a world filled with first-person shooters and the color grey. Daedalic have created the much-loved Edna & Harvey series, and also the Deponia games, the first of which ranks as one of my all-time favorite point and click titles, if not one of my favorite games period. Now, Daedalic are back with their latest creation, a charming adventure that’ll take you back to your child-hood when you used to be enthralled by those classic, wonderful children’s books.

The Night of the Rabbit is beautiful. It’s gorgeous. It’s drop-dead utterly enchanting eye-candy of the highest and most awesome order. I’ve come to expect nothing but outstanding visual design from Daedalic thanks to their continued use of hand-drawn graphics and their seemingly endless desire to craft unique worlds full of amazing scenery, but I honestly thought they wouldn’t be able to top their own Deponia, a game boasting a very unique and striking look. But good grief does Night of the Rabbit look good! The visuals are once again hand-drawn with a  stunning attention to detail that boggles the mind, but it’s the artistic style that takes center stage with luscious colors adorning every scene and amazing backdrops that make the game look like a painting in motion, which, alongside the story itself, give Night of the Rabbit its storybook vibe. Don’t take my word for it, though, just cast your eye across the pictures adorning the page to see just how lovely the graphics really are. Even the animations for our hero and the many people he encounters on his magical journey ooze character, though they could have been just a little smoother,  and a bit more varied, for that matter. The backgrounds and characters may be breathtaking to look at, but animations are just a little jerky, like when Jerry is just walking around or when he’s interacting with things, although I must stress that the animation work is by no means bad. This is something that has been present in previous Daedalic titles as well, but for some reason I just noticed it more here. It’s the age-old problem that the closer you draw to perfection, and the art-style is damn near perfect, the more obvious flaws become. The range of animations is also pretty limited, which can make some scenes look more awkward than they should. The point and click genre is difficulty in that it’s hard to imagine any major improvements being made these days to the formula, but this is certainly one area that can be built upon and for future titles I’d like to see Daedalic work on their animation so that it can match the high-quality standards set by the art style.

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The story follows the adventures of one young boy by the name of Jeremiah Hazelnut, whose great desire is to become a skilled magician. We pick up Jerry’s story as he’s enjoying the final two days of his summer break before he must return to the drudgery of school, something which he is not at all looking forward to. Since he lives at the edge of a beautiful forest he spends the majority of his free time having adventures and exploring , as children of 12-years tend to do. No, wait, sorry, that’s what I did when I was 12. Kids these days would just sit inside playing on the Xbox, so we can safely assume that Night of the Rabbit takes place either sometime in the past or in a different dimension altogether. Things get rather strange, though, when Jerry gets a mysterious letter which lists the ingredients needed to perform a ritual of some sort. Obviously, being of inquisitive mind and also because it’d be a boring game if he didn’t, Jerry, or rather the player, sets everything up for the ritual and ends summoning forth a magicians chest in which Jerry discovers a wand and top-hat that he obligingly claims as he own. Mere seconds later things get even more bizarre when a human-sized anthropomorphic rabbit wearing a coat and calling himself the Marquis De Hoto appears and promises to take Jerry on an amazing adventure where he’ll learn to become a true magician.

One  ride through a magical portal in a tree later and hey presto, Jerry is transported to Mousewood, a little village inhabited by mice, hedgehogs, squirrels and all other manner of animals wearing clothes and going about their daily business of running cafes, doing carpentry and having parties. And thus begins an a tale which manages to capture the spirit of fun, innocence and adventure of those old classic children’s books about strange lands and even stranger characters. The word ‘charming’ is rather a vague term to use in a videogame review, but truthfully no other word rightly or accurately describes Night of the Rabbit: it is absolutely charming, from its innocent lead character to the astounding world that Daedalic have crafted, everything  simply speaks to you. It’s hard not to get drawn into the wonderful land of Mousewood by the stupendous visuals and the strange inhabitants. Through Jerry you’ll feel like a little kid again, gawking at everything as you’re led through a tale of magic by a giant rabbit with a spiffy coat. In comparison to the sarcastic, arrogant lead characters of many point and click games (Rufus from Deponia springs instantly to mind), Jerry is an innocent, slightly naive, good-natured, well-meaning lad who is played brilliantly by his voice actor, who is, and I can’t stress enough, actually a kid himself. I know it sounds odd, but for some reason it’ soften adults, and more specifically women, which voice children in games or animated movies, and it never sounds right to my ears. Whomever Daedalic discovered to play the role of Jeremiah Hazelnut has my full and unequivocal approval as he delivers almost every line perfectly.

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I’ve also got to say that the Marquis is also wonderfully voiced, and is easily the most interesting character out of the lot. Sure, Jerry is an engaging enough lead character, even if he doesn’t always show as much surprise and awe as I would have expected from someone being led around by a talking rabbit, but there’s nothing truly special about his personality, while the Marquis is equal parts mad, charismatic, fascinating and slightly creepy, immediately capturing your interest. I also appreciated that whenever you talked to him the Marquis theme music would kick in, and what brilliant theme music it is!

It’s not just the Marquis and Jerry, though, all of the characters are expertly voiced. Daedalic’s previous games have been something of a mixed bag when it came to the quality of the voice acting, but here everyone does a great job, and it also happens to be backed up by dialogue that almost literally sparkles. The occasional dash of humor thrown in also works wonders and rarely failed to have me smiling.

The overall story is fun and enjoyable, then,  with engaging characters aplenty and some neat twists and turns toward the end that will be sure to have you on the edge of your seat, even if you will see a couple of them coming, but where the game falters and flounders is the pacing of its story, which in turn affects the gameplay.  The first half of the game is devoted to Jerry learning four spells and getting everything ready for a special ceremony, and in this time there’s almost zero narrative progress made, except for a few small tidbits here and there. And then suddenly in the second half the game’s narrative kicks things into top-gear and plot points and twists start to get thrown at you in fast succession, though mostly they just add more layers to the existing tale and don’t answer any questions you might have, which is almost as frustrating at times as the sluggish pace of the first half.  As for the ending the game takes every single plot thread from throughout your adventure, bundles the, up with some more twists and then literally throws everything at your face in a single video which explains absolutely everything in just a few minutes, packing in practically every bit of story that felt like it was missing from the first part of the game into one information overload. It’s like the writer came in one day, handed the studio the script for the last third or so of the game and promptly forgot that there was also some words needed for the rest of it. On the one hand what we do get to learn in that short space of time is fantastic and certainly weaves a brilliant tale that’s bound to have you staring at the screen with your mouth hanging open,  but it’s delivered in such a short space of time that its hard to appreciate it properly, and for some it may simply be a bit overwhelming to have everything so quickly explained. The story is great, but it just needed to be told throughout the game, rather than at the end of it.

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Of course the argument could certainly be made that the story simply wouldn’t have worked had it been spread out across the game, that the revelations and twists could only be revealed in the final moments of the narrative.

These pacing problems effect the core gameplay as well, as the lack of narrative progression often means there’s no sense of reward from completing puzzles early in the game. You’re going to end up doing a lot of different things for the many inhabitants of Mousewood, but your reward for completing each task is to simply be told that you’ve got yet another task to do, rather than getting to advance the story a little. Luckily the world, characters and dialogue are good enough to hold your interest until the plot starts to move forward later on.

At least the pacing issues can’t hurt the games biggest strength, though, which is it’s sense of place and brilliant fantasy. It may sound a bit strange, and that’s because it is, but this realm of furry creatures who can talk feels like a real place, a place with a rich history, which is impressive given that you’re actually relegated to a fairly small piece of land to explore. Mousewood and the surrounding areas feel like part of a much larger world.

Point and click games may seem like one of the simplest genres to create, but as those who have been ardent players over the years know there’s a subtle and tricky art to crafting the many puzzles that make up the core gameplay. Mostly it comes down to the logic that is applied to the solution for each puzzle, namely that it has to make sense within the context of the game’s world, otherwise players will be left to merely click on things until something happens and they can progress. There’s also the skillful art of directing the player to consider: make it too obvious what they should be doing and where they should be going and players will feel little satisfaction in completing tasks, and yet fail to give them enough direction or well though-out hints and they’ll end up going around in circles, growing frustrated until they finally discover the answer through sheer stubbornness. Daedalic’s past games have been a little too quick to delve into the realms of ‘needle in a haystack’ puzzle solutions, although Deponia and its sequel got things largely right. Night of the Rabbit, on the other, is something of an inconsistent beast when it comes to puzzle designs, with many of them feeling either blatantly obviously or irritatingly obtuse, with only a relatively small portion of them hitting the nail on the head. A part of its problem comes from the structure of the puzzles and the game’s frequent lack of direction. At any one time you can have quite a few different puzzles on the go, giving you the sense that the game is fairly open in regards as to the order you do things, but that’s not actually true as puzzles must often be completed in a very linear fashion. You might find yourself going in circles for hours trying to solve a single puzzle, only to discover that you can’t actually finish that specific puzzle until you go ahead and complete another task on the other side of the map, a task which seems to be completely unrelated. This would be fine if it wasn’t for the fact that the game does a generally poor job of letting you know this, leading to plenty of sections where you’ll find yourself at a loss as to what the hell you’re supposed to be doing.

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A solution to this should have come in the form of the Advice Seeker spell which can be cast at any given time, a spell which allows you to directly contact the Marquis for advice. It’s a great idea on paper to introduce a hint system, especially since as we’ve already covered the game isn’t always great at letting the player know what they should be trying to do, but in practice it proves to be a completely useless system. All the Marquis does is tell you things you already know. Not once did I receive  genuinely helpful advice from him. There is also a journal that can be accessed, but it’s no help either, simply listing what you’ve done up  until now.

As for the puzzles themselves they tend to follow the familiar point and click staples. You’ve got infinite space within your rucksack to store all manner of things that you find lying around the place, and each challenge is usually overcome by combining certain items and interacting with other things. Where Night of the Rabbit does set itself apart, though, is the inclusion of spells. Along the way Jerry will learn a total of four spells and they bring an interesting new element to the game. It’s just a shame that they’re really not used very much.

As I’ve already said the game’s puzzles are a bit of an inconsistent bunch, with some puzzles being too easy and others following a strange logic that makes them a bit annoying to solve.  Prime examples are when you need to use a frog to inspire a poet, or having to insert a tap into a beet to get syrup. Still, while the challenges on offer here aren’t the best examples of the genre they certainly never even come near to entering the realms of being bad – they’re enjoyable, nothing more and nothing less.

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As has become a staple of Daedalic’s games Night of the Rabbit lets you highlight every object that can be interacted with by pressing and holding the spacebar, putting an end to those annoying pixel hunts that the genre is widely known for. However, this time around Daedalic have taken the time to actually explain this mechanic in the context of the game. You see, Jerry has in his possession a magic ring, and if he looks through the hole in the centre of the ring it allows him to see all the wonders of the world. Sure, this mechanic never needed to be explained in their previous games, but I appreciated Daedalic taking the time to actually weave it into the fabric of the story. It’s the little touches that can really make a difference.

Night of the Rabbit also offers up a couple of other small distractions along the way to flesh out the game, such as collectible audio books, of which there are a total of 8 to listen. To find these you need to hunt down a certain woodsprite who likes to collect stories and sit around at night, enjoying the silence that only the darkness can bring. Each audio book is a good five to ten minutes in length and each one is a well written tale, done in the style of a children’s story by a brilliant narrator whose voice suits the role perfectly. Not only are they charming, fun stories to listen to but they also provide a little extra backstory for Mousewood, as well as providing some interesting snippets of information for the sharp-eared listener. My only regret is that you can’t choose to listen to these audio-books while you’re playing the game, instead you must go into the menu and listen to the whole thing. I thoroughly loved the stories, but found it hard to sit down and listen to each one when I knew there was a game to be played.

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Another distraction comes in the form of a card game called Quartets that you can play with almost any of the residents of Mousewood. Qaurtets is essentially the Mousewood version of Happy Families, played by trying to get as many of the “quartets”, which are made up of four cards each, as you can, which is done by you and your opponent taking it in turns to ask each other for a card. Should your opponent not have the card you asked for then you must draw one card from the deck, but if they did have the card you asked for then you get to ask again. As such having a good memory is key to winning Quartets, as is an ability to predict what cards may be left in the deck. It’s a fun enough little diversion, but one that’s not likely to keep you playing for long as there’s not much to it. Still, it’s nice to see Daedelic working to flesh out their games with new things to try out.

Alongside the game’s breathtaking visuals the musical score also deserves special mention for being utterly fantastic. The main theme in particular, the one you hear on the main menu, is a lovely piece which also, like the story and world, capture all the magic of a child’s imagination and lust for adventure. There is not a single piece of music that feels out of place, nor a single piece that cannot be described as anything less than excellent.

Before I finish up this review in a flurry of words I should also mention that I did have some problems during my time with the game. The game crashed on me a few times during play, and there were instances of the framerate slowing down. At this point I’m unsure if these were problems with the game or with my computer.

Night of the Rabbit is an easy game to become enthralled by. It’s beautiful world and charming characters lure you in and ensure that you never want to leave, the story conjuring up memories of childhood when adventures where around ever corner. In that regard Night of the Rabbit is pure genius. Underneath that the gameplay doesn’t quite manage to live up to the high standards that Daedalic have set with the likes of Deponia, but it still manages to be enjoyable. All in all, this is a damn fine game, one that deserves your attention.

The Good:
+ It looks absolutely gorgeous.
+ Utterly charming.
+ The narrative is brilliant…

The Bad:
– … but has serious pacing problems.
– Often leaves you directionless.

The Verdict: 4/5 – Great.
Deadalic have done it again, crafting yet another beautiful point and click title that is sure to have fans of the genre grinning from ear to ear. Sure, the gameplay doesn’t shine with brilliance, but it’s still more than enjoyable, and the enchanting world will have you enthralled from start to finish.

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