I hated and loved in equal measure the end of the summer holidays as a child. My impending return to gloomy classrooms, smudged jotters, and uncomfortable uniforms only made me take advantage of my final days of freedom all the more. I lamented the moments of my holiday that I'd wasted, while I tried to come up with new and exciting things to do before school began again.
As I grew older, drinking and being a layabout would overtake the fun shenanigans of my younger years, and of course, now the concept of a summer holiday is laughable. There's no such thing as that much free time anymore. Piffle.
But thanks to Daedalic's point-and-click adventure The Night of the Rabbit, I've been able to reclaim some of the whimsy and excitement of that bygone time. I've also called a rabbit a bastard, hurt my foot when I kicked a wall, and rage quit at least ten times.
The Night of the Rabbit (Mac, PC [Reviewed])
Developer: Daedalic Entertainment
Publisher: Daedalic Entertainment
Released: May 29, 2013 (US / EU)
Rig: Intel i5-3570K @3.40 GHz, 8 GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 670, and Windows 7 64-bit
The adorably named Jerry Hazelnut, amateur magician and adventurer, has only two days before his summer holidays end and he's thrust back into the grey world of chalk and nagging teachers. Luckily, he's whisked away from his simple life by a magical talking rabbit who would probably be right at home in a Tardis, and he soon becomes a magician's apprentice in a realm populated by curious wood-dwelling critters.
If this all sounds like the synopsis of a children's book, then you've probably read at least one. It does manage to avoid being too cloyingly sentimental or twee, however, and like all good children's stories -- like The Hobbit or Watership Down -- there's some darkness in the mix involving a foul plan to put an end to magical jaunts, and some rather unfriendly crows.
Jerry is a welcome change from the often sarcastic kleptomaniacs that always seem to find themselves the protagonists of adventure games. He's a sincere, somewhat naive, good-natured little fellow, and his voice actor does such a sterling job that I find myself hating child actors just a little bit less.
In fact, the voice acting in The Night of the Rabbit is, across the board, absolutely wonderful. Daedalic's games are normally a mixed bag in this regard, but I have no complaints this time around. It's not just the professional quality, either; the dialogue is simply fun to listen to. The delivery is well thought out and properly directed, for a change, and frequently elevates the script and the occasional gag that doesn't really work.
There's plenty of time to enjoy the voice acting, as The Night of the Rabbit is a hefty adventure. Not only is it Daedalic's biggest game, it's large by any standard, filled to the brim with oodles of wit and charm, and has no dearth of incredibly detailed, picturesque areas. And most importantly, it's chock-full of all manner of puzzles, from physical conundrums requiring environmental manipulation to tricky riddles, from classic inventory fiddling to the creation of potions. Unfortunately, many of these puzzles are rendered frustrating by the arbitrary order in which they must be performed.
Exploring Mousewood and the other, smaller worlds connected to it by portal trees is a delight. But when you're wandering around aimlessly, trying to figure out why you can't finish a puzzle you've clearly figured out the solution to, the gorgeous, verdant forest becomes an uncaring prison, and its comically animated, charismatic denizens become mocking jailers.
I'm a big supporter of challenging puzzles and brain teasers that go beyond simply combining a couple of random items in one's inventory, but The Night of the Rabbit adds too many layers of obfuscation by throwing puzzle after puzzle at the player, not once hinting that there's a particular order to them. Thank goodness there's at least a journal to keep track of them all.
Frequently, I'd find myself completely stumped by what seemed like a fairly simple problem, having exhausted all logical solutions. I'd wander around randomly clicking on things in hopes that I'd suddenly be struck by inspiration or just have a bout of luck. But then, after completely giving up, I'd find a key item or new area by solving an entirely unrelated puzzle, and suddenly I'd be able to solve the previous one.
So the game often devolves into starting and stopping puzzles because there's an order most of them need to be completed in, but it's rarely a logical order. It doesn't help matters when the hint system is a gigantic waste of time. Jerry can summon an image of his mentor, the aforementioned Whovian rabbit, the Marquis de Hoto, to guide him on his adventure, but all the old bugger does is repeat the task he'd sent Jerry on. And this, my friends, is why I ended up shouting obscenities at a fictional rabbit.
Better hints are provided subtly in conversations, though sometimes they prove too subtle. One such instance pits Jerry against an intolerable, spoiled little mouse who refuses to let the magician's apprentice go down the river without paying a toll, and Jerry notes that the mouse needs a hobby other than collecting tolls, or something to that effect. Now, for a player who hasn't been paying attention, this is a throwaway piece of dialogue. But if they'd noted a particular advertisement and were in possession of a specific object, then the solution actually becomes extremely clear.
Some of the puzzles are downright inventive. It's magic -- appropriately -- that saves the day. As Jerry travels through Mousewood and its connected worlds, he learns new puzzle-solving spells. With them, previously mundane objects become solutions, new areas open up, and new ways to interact with the environment appear. Counter-intuitively, the magical solutions are often far more logical -- at least in regards to the strange internal logic of Mousewood -- than the more down-to-earth ones.
The first spell Jerry learns is the one most frequently used, though not necessarily to solve puzzles. The stone whisperer spell allows Jerry to listen in on the thoughts of stones and, predominantly, statues. More often than not, this amounts to a line of dialogue that doesn't help the top hat-wearing scamp at all. This is far from a complaint, however; these whispering stones add flavor to the world, being sometimes humorous or occasionally informative, and a few times uttering some quite ominous lines of dialogue.
And that's what The Night of the Rabbit does best. There's a strong sense of place, as if the game was based on a piece of fiction full of history. In a sense, it is. Amid the many random extras, such as stickers and a rather uninspired card game that can be played at any time, is a collection of audio books written by Matt Kempke, the brain behind The Night of the Rabbit. These tales from Mousewood are what, in part, inspired the game.
Many of The Night of the Rabbit's missteps are problems that the genre has always had, as far back as the LucasArts and Sierra days -- which we gloss over thanks to nostalgia. So, almost forgivable then. But there is one recurring flaw that threatens to mar an experience that I found otherwise -- despite the invisible puzzle order -- rather wonderful. It sometimes steals the sense of satisfaction one derives from solving a puzzle. Criminal!
The reward for wracking one's brain for sometimes hours on end is the progression of the game. Usually this takes the form of a new area opening up or moving to a new scene. All too often, The Night of the Rabbit fails to deliver this expected reward. I can almost hear the Marquis de Hoto's voice in my head: "Well done for figuring that one out, Fraser, but wait, the puzzle has suddenly grown into another puzzle. Hadn't you better do something about that?" Bugger off, rabbit.
I reached my lowest point at 2 o'clock in the morning, after spending a good half hour utterly baffled by a particularly obtuse puzzle. Chain smoking cigarettes due to stress had given me a slight cough, and really all I wanted to do was go to bed. But I needed to finish the damn puzzle first. Then lo and behold, I discovered an object with a hidden item inside. Would this be the solution I was looking for? I certainly hoped so, as I embarked on yet another puzzle so I could solve a different one. What was my reward for using my smarts? A bloody playing card, an item that has no real use at all, unless you want to play a mini-game.
At this point, I buried my face in a pillow and screamed a long list of colorful curses, including a few that I made up on the spot.
Such moments of unbridled rage did not occur frequently, but they did come close to souring the overall experience. Even exceptionally clever puzzles need a proper payoff, and when that's seriously lacking, the impetus to continue starts to disappear.
What got me through those instances was the menagerie of woodland critters (and an Alan Moore-inspired forest guardian), the sumptuous art, and the mystery that is slowly teased, but ultimately unravels in a quickly wrapped-up, anti-climactic ending that I could definitely have done without. Yet for all its flaws, The Night of the Rabbit may still be Daedalic's best adventure game. The issues are numerous, but the significant size of the game also offers up a lot of opportunities for it to redeem itself, which it does manage.
The Night of the Rabbit still contains all of those classic "ah ha!" moments when you, at long last, cease to be dumbfounded, and the novelty of the magic spells surprisingly doesn't wear off, continuing to be implemented cleverly throughout the long experience. With a lot of patience, you could find yourself having a bloody good time.