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Night of the Rabbit

(Daedalic Entertainment; Retail Release Date: 29 May 2013)

So far I’ve not been a fan of Daedalic Entertainment’s output. I like adventure games, but their adherence to the tenants of an earlier time hinder their creative ability and their games. They don’t stretch themselves beyond the strict boundaries of the classic genre, and as a result, their games suffer. It also doesn’t help that their stories and characters have so far either produced disgust, apathy, or outright catatonia in me. The Night of the Rabbit seems like a direct response to the latter concern, while continuing on with the stilted classic design of the former.


Their latest game is a treat aesthetically. You play as Jeremiah Hazelnut, a 12-year-old boy who fancies himself a magician. As summer nears its end, he is determined to squeeze as much adventure out of the time he has left in the forest that surrounds his house. He stumbles upon a magical rabbit known as the Marquis de Hoto (who incidentally has far too epic a musical score play whenever you talk to him) and offers to tutor him in the ways of becoming a treewalker, a wizard able to travel across worlds. You follow him to the land called Mousewood, where mice, rabbits, squirrels, and frogs make up the populous. So it’s essentially Harry Potter via Rupert Bear.


As you progress through the narrative, Mousewood will change. Characters will move about, new areas will open up, and the town comes to life in slow layers, revealing itself as a real living, breathing place. All of these characters are delightful, even the gruff dwarves, the cantankerous rabbit, and one particularly full of himself pre-teen mouse. Each of the characters feel like their own person with their own priorities , which when combined together, makes the whole feel like a living community. And even better, everyone (even the antagonists) are just pleasant. This is a tale in the vein of a children’s fable in which being evil is no reason to be nasty.


Two special commendations have to go to the voice cast and the score. The characters sound exactly how you want them to sound, and the score’s orchestral music one that I will probably remember for months, if not years, to come.


Then there are the other worlds that you will briefly visit over the course of your journey to become a treewalker. They don’t have as much time to establish their own tone like Mousewood, but still manage to pull off differentiating themselves and creating their own character within the whole. All of the worlds, including Mousewood, are gorgeously painted and heavily detailed. There was a lot of work put into the style of the art, and its heavy line illustrations further emphasize the tone of the story.


But then there is a serious problem with The Night of the Rabbit in its slavish devotion to the classic style of the genre. There are a few of the genre’s more recent developments thrown in, like a button in the shape of a magic coin that will highlight all of the interactive items and locations on the screen or the game automatically providing the verb—look, interact, go—necessary to use a highlighted item when hovering over it with the mouse. They do make pointing and clicking smoother, but they don’t help with the actual design of the game, which itself isn’t entirely uniform in how its mechanics work.


There are places of true brilliance when it comes to the puzzles, like having to decipher a poem to gather ingredients for a summoning spell or portal locations where the limiting of the scope of puzzles allows the game to forgo the heavily complex multistage puzzles that often make you lose sight of the goal in games of this sort. These latter types of puzzles are simple and limited to two locations to complete. I was able to finish these parts pretty quickly and feel pretty clever too. In fact, the game is at its best in these very focused sections that come in the latter half of the game, and thankfully the ending take its cue from this compartmentalized design.


The Mousewood section sometimes has one or two puzzles like this, but often they boil down to the adventure game version of collecting a grocery list (literally at one point) before being allowed to continue. I like when the puzzles directly connected to the narrative and can see how it helps me towards the ultimate goal, but very often The Night of the Rabbit focuses on the “little old lady that swallowed a fly” logic that bogs down so many adventure games of the 1990s, as you try and find the thread that will allow you to start solving the chain of puzzles to continue. Often you’ll be presented with a puzzle that will grant you an item before knowing what the problem that item is supposed to solve is. Add in a hint system that is so unhelpful that I eventually forgot it existed and you have a play experience of wandering around in circles trying to figure out the logic, not of the puzzles, but of where to begin.


As the game goes on it introduces side elements like a Go-Fish-like minigame, playing hide and seek, or listening to short stories about the denizens of Mousewood, and eventually I found these far more fascinating than the esoteric puzzles that I was supposed to be solving. They add a layer of world building that fits the tone and aesthetic of the game perfectly.


I’m going back and forth on giving The Night of the Rabbit a recommendation. It’s a story about stories, responsibility, and what having dreams are all about through a surprisingly subtle narrative of low-key fantasy adventure. Unlike another Daedalic title, A New Beginning, The Night of the Rabbit is so subtle, in fact, I was actually sucker punched when it revealed what its “message” was. I didn’t see it coming, but it fit perfectly. It also ends on a high-note of puzzle and narrative design. The conclusion shows that a great deal of effort was put into crafting a sequence that could have easily dragged the whole experience down if handled any less expertly. But, on the other hand, the middle drags as it gates your exploration of the world and everything it has to offer behind ultimately pointless minutiae that adds nothing to the overall story.

Rating:

Eric Swain is a self-educated game critic. One day he had the crazy idea that video games could be put under the microscope with the same amount of respect and thought that books and movies are only to discover he was not the first person to think of this. He set out to learn all he could and hopefully add to the growing field of game criticism. He has no idea how far he's come or if he's moved forward much at all. He graduated from Boston University with a B.A. in English. You can read more of his work at http://www.thegamecritique.com .


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