I’ve got a confession to make. I should have started writing this review at least a week ago. However I’ve been having terrible problems actually figuring out the best way to start. Which is sort of apt as the opening to The Night of the Rabbit starts in a very similar manner; two mysterious figures meet at a foggy cross roads and discuss their difficulty in finding the beginning of the story, before one of them eventually guides the other down what is assumed to be the correct path.
The game then begins properly and we are introduced to the protagonist – Jeremiah Hazelnut, a twelve year old boy who dreams of becoming a magician. With only two days left of the summer holidays, Jerry longs to have one final adventure before returning to the monotonous torture of school.
This wish is fulfilled when, after being sent to pick blackberries by his mother, Jerry returns home to find a mysterious note detailing an incantation to summon something at the crossroads of the forest in which Jerry and his mother live.
After gathering all the necessary ingredients and performing the ritual in true adventure game style, by setting fire to a coke can full of firecrackers and chalk. Jerry summons a curious trunk containing a wand and a magician’s hat. Within the hat is a rabbit; the dapper, enigmatic and slightly sinister magician known as the Marquis de Hoto.
In return for successfully summoning him, Hoto offers to help Jerry fulfil his dream of becoming a magician by taking him on as his apprentice. The two are then transported to the land of Mousewood, a place almost identical to Jerry’s own dimension, except that now Jerry is a lot smaller and the entire place is populated by anthropomorphic animals, fairytale folk and colossal crows.
Thus begins Jerry’s adventures in Mousewood, in a tale that is best described as equal parts Alice in Wonderland, Beatrix Potter, Wind in the Willows and Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, although comparing it to the film adaptation, The Secret of NIMH might better serve as a comparison, as visually Night of the Rabbit has all the warmth, wonder and technical flourish of a Don Bluth movie.
Using a combination of hand drawn sprites, beautifully painted backgrounds, subtle particle effects and well animated characters the world of Mousewood is a sight to behold.
The games sumptuous visuals are coupled with a lilting and incredibly fitting soundtrack by Tilo Alperman as well as solid performances by the games voice cast.
It was also refreshing to see Jerry played by 13 year old British actor Jed Kelly instead of a woman, this added an extra layer of realism to the proceedings and Kelly puts in a particularly strong performance to boot.
The only minor problem I found with the games English voice track was that characters would occasionally be cut off near the end of line. It’s only a minor thing but noticeable because dialogue makes up a large portion of the experience,
It’s a pity too because the games dialogue on the whole is witty, charming, genuinely funny and very well written.
It’s incredibly hard not to fall for the charms of Night of the Rabbit as the over arching narrative of Jerry’s final adventure of the school holidays and its subsequent metaphor as the final days of childhood are moving and bitter sweet and one that anyone can relate to.
As a work of narrative fiction Night of the Rabbit is fantastic, especially, if you enjoy more of a slow burn than a race the finish. There’s a certain meandering pace to proceedings that reflects the picturesque setting well, although I could understand how some people might find it a tad too slow at time.
This could be compounded by the fact that the game itself is colossal, especially for an adventure game, weighing in at approximately twenty hours.
There’s plenty to be getting on with as you help the denizens of Mousewood and learn how to become a wizard along the way. The best part was that nothing felt like filler as every side quest fed deftly into the main story arch and enriched the overall experience further.
The gameplay itself is classic point and click with a slight twist. In additional to usual kleptomaniacal puzzle solving Jerry also learns several spells which help him to solve puzzles as well. Although on paper this sounds like a neat idea. In game it translates to little more than having several reusable items at your disposal.
When I say classic point and click, I mean it in every sense, which includes most of the quirks that go along with it.
The game has its own twisted logic and if you don’t follow it, chances are you will get stuck. Although the game does provide a hint system by way of a spell Jerry can use at any time, it is somewhat vague and rarely very useful at all, which is a shame,
Much more useful though is a magical coin that Jerry obtains at the begging of his adventure which enables him to see the locations of any clickable items on screen for a brief period. This all but eliminates the annoying pixel hunt that can occur in adventures often leading to players spending hours wandering around areas meticulously hunting for items they may have missed in order to progress.
You may still get stuck in Night of the Rabbit, but at least you’ll know that you almost certainly have everything you need at your disposal in order to progress.
Even if you do, and I can’t stress this enough, don’t get disheartened and give up. Power through, the narrative is worth the occasional bump in the road and that eureka moment when you finally figure out what you need to do is incredible.
In short I would highly recommend checking out Night of the Rabbit. Telltale Games may have done a great job of popularising the genre but at the same time they’ve taken a lot of what makes adventure games, well adventure games and have thrown it out the window.
Daedalic on the other hand have created games that carry the torch proper, making experiences that feel like a solid continuation of an already solid blueprint refined to the point of near perfection.
If you long for the days of your youth spent exploring the countryside with only a stick for company or your teenage years spent cooped up inside playing classics like ToonStruck, Day of the Tentacle and Broken Sword then look no further than Night of the Rabbit.