Developers: Daedalic Entertainment
Publishers: Daedalic Entertainment
The Night of the Rabbit looks, sounds, and feels like a children's fairytale come to life. The first taste of Daedalic's new point-and-click adventure game arrives with almost immediate overtones of Lewis Carroll's famous journey down a different rabbit hole, though married to elements of The Wind in the Willows and The Chronicles of Narnia. Given that you're relatively swiftly invited away from a world we know and recognise to a foreign land of mystery and magic, led on by a flamboyant Marquis (who happens to be a bunny), I keep thinking of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere.
No matter the particular reference points and personal associations, what's important is that The Night of the Rabbit feels very much like any number of magical adventures in which many of us will surely have wandered into at some point in our past. This particular tale deals with the story of one Jeremiah Hazelnut, a wide-eyed twelve year old boy who fosters dreams of one day becoming a magician. But the days of summer holiday are nearly up, and Jerry is dearly hoping to fill his remaining two pockets of freedom with as much adventure as possible.
So it is that a languid tutorial section which sees him venturing into the nearby forest to pick some berries eventually ends up with him summoning the Marquis de
Carabas Hoto, the aforementioned rabbit, who presents young Jeremiah with the perfect opportunity for adventure, and the chance to visit other worlds.
As adventure games go, The Night of the Rabbit is a very pretty example. The "living painting" effect is explored to its fullest potential here, combined with a range of curious settings that allow the artists to tap into something rather more imaginative than the fairly bland junkyards of Deponia, and it seems to only get better the farther away from his home Jeremiah travels. It isn't too long before he stumbles into the town of Mousewood -- a little forest settlement stuffed with weird and wonderful talking woodland creatures such as those you might find in Narnia or Oz. Each new vista is impressively detailed and, in scenes where the area extends beyond the edge of the screen, the background tableaux scroll at different speeds as you walk, as if the action were taking place on a rotating stage, with flat scenery. It's a little thing, this mobile decoupage, but it adds to the sense of whimsical theatricality.
The little helpful mechanisms that have become so very au fait in modern adventure games -- hint systems, highlighting interactive objects -- appear to be gin with to be absent. And while I became a little stuck early on, not twigging that I already had the materials I would need to progress, I actually rather liked it that way. Adventure games have to strike a fine balance between being too easy and incredibly straightforward, and not providing enough information and therefore making for a frustrating time. But leaning towards the latter will always make for a more satisfying experience when it comes to the puzzles. The hint system does arrive eventually, but mercifully it takes the form of riddles spun by the rabbit, so as not to make it completely plain sailing.
If Daedalic have had issues in their past adventue games, they've perhaps most frequently come in the form of rather stilted British voicce work and clunky dialogue, and the same might be said of The Night of the Rabbit, though to a smaller degree. Actually the voice-acting thus far has been solid and serviceable, with the inhabitants of Mousewood brought to life very nicely indeed. If anything, it's perhaps the script that has been a little bit of a problem thus far, with some strange pauses between lines (slow loading?) and a few sentence fragments that seem a little out of place and jokes that can fall a little flat through both wording and delivery.
That said, such criticisms are generally in the minority, and the game makes up for the few little niggling gripes in the aural department with a cracking score that feels plucked from any number of fantastical televisual childhoold stapels of mine. The delicate whimsy of the forest is interrupted in fine fashion when de Hoto turns up, bringing with him a flurry of orchestral delights that set the heart racing. In many ways I can't help but feel that it matches Jeremiah's disposition, following the changes in mood of this young lad adeptly with song and stave.
As it stands, there's just enough about The Night of the Rabbit to make me want to play more. de Hoto is an intriguing character, as is the woodsprite who confronts him in the game's rather discombobulating prologue. I thought Jeremiah's voice would irritate me to the extent of clawing my ears off in the first five minutes, but after a little while the v/o settles down and becomes a little more natural, and he becomes far more likeable once he's completely out of his depth and interacting with a plethora of chattering woodland critters. It'l be interesting to see if the inventive puzzles, item combinations, and riddling can be maintained throughout the games full length, but for now The Night of the Rabbit has me hooked on a diet of childlike wonderment and magical whimsy.
And I've always got time for that.