As a genre reverently stuck in the past, adventure point and click gaming and childishness seem to be somewhat of a contradiction. It should then be exciting to see what happens when a developer attempts to combine these two opposites in an attempt to meld and reinvent. Sadly The Night of the Rabbit, the latest release from Daedalic Entertainment who previously brought us the Deponia series, fails in this task and leaves us with a pleasant children’s story blighted by frustrating puzzles, tiring conversations and needless repetition.
The game is essentially a coming of age story as we follow our young hero Jerry who, upon discovering a mystical conjuration spell in his letterbox, summons a disturbingly scary anthropomorphic rabbit wizard, named the Marquis de Hoto and sets out on his journey to become a wizard’s apprentice. With wide-eyed innocence he leaves his home behind and disappears through a portal to another world filled with a wonderful array of more human-like woodland creatures. All is not what it seems in this magical land of Mousewood and soon Jerry will discover it is upon him to save this world and its inhabitants.
After an elegant introduction to the game and its mechanics in which Jerry must unravel the riddle of the conjuration spell, seemingly just because he is a bored child, the game opens out as he enters the land of Mousewood. Sadly this is where the game completely falls apart. In many ways The Night of the Rabbit falls down many of the same traps as the Deponia series. On the whole it is the classic adventure gaming fare of attempting to combine everything with everyone and hoping the results work in your favour. Yet, barely twenty minutes into the game, the player is suddenly completely swamped with locations to explore and tasks to complete, which will overwhelm even a competent adventure gamer let alone a child. The issue is complicated further by the fact that the tasks cannot be completed in any order, despite this appearing to be the case, the result of which is the player spending vast amounts of time trying to solve a puzzle that is simply impossible until later in the game.
Attempting to give examples to prove this point is difficult as it would ruin the game for potential players, but on the other hand it may help alleviate some of the exasperation that this game provides, so... at one point you must try and melt some ice and it is evident that a machine that pipes out hot coffee is the solution. Only the coffee goes cold before you can get it to the ice. Instantly you wonder whether you need a thermos or some other method of reheating the coffee, so most likely you spend a great deal of time hunting down such an item. Fortunately hitting the spacebar reveals all interactive objects so finding things in theory should be simple, however there are so many areas, each littered with pointless artifacts, that this is overly complicated. The solution to this problem is disappointing and dull, but more importantly simply cannot be solved until much later. Your time would have been much better spent solving another task, only there is no indication that this is the case.
The game is littered with hundreds of these examples until later in the game, when bizarrely it abruptly becomes rather simplistic. Instead of having to wade across huge chunks of the world to solve puzzles (there is a fast travel option, but for some reason this is not unlocked until at least half way through the game) it begins to limit itself to smaller areas, and the puzzles become far less frustrating. Admittedly the puzzles do have more ingenuity towards the end of the game, revolving around switching from day to night, or using spells to proceed, however the solutions seem to present themselves at a much quicker and less frustrating rate. It feels as if the designers accidentally drew the difficulty curve upside-down and everyone else simply nodded and agreed.
All of this is a real shame because The Night of the Rabbit is one of the most beautifully presented point and click games we have ever seen. The wonderfully detailed hand-painted backgrounds make the tiresome exploring far more pleasant, meanwhile the glorious classical-folk music gives a huge boost to the experience. Arguably this is some of the best gaming music, at least of this style, since the fantastic Braid, yet even this gets tiring after searching for the same solution for hours. Furthermore it keeps that elegant inventory system that made Deponia bearable, all of which means the frustrations of the game are always due to its puzzles rather than any other aspects.
Those with the penchant for collectables will find themselves gleefully exploring the landscapes for hidden stickers, unlockable stories, and dew drops that when completely gathered reveal a dark secret. This bonus content is surprisingly deep and certainly adds an extra element to proceedings, allowing you dive into more stories of Mousewood and the magical world if you so desire. There is even a simplistic and unoriginal collectable card game, which can only be described as a Go Fish clone. This can be played at any point once unlocked with various characters in game, but is completely unnecessary to complete the main game. It is shame that the developers did not put a little more thought into this and perhaps integrate it more into the story rather than just adding it as an afterthought.
All the in-game conversations are fully voice acted which at first is intriguing but quickly becomes annoying. Obviously the vast majority of the script is meant to be spoken by a child or one of the animals of Mousewood, however most of actors sound like an older cast members attempting to sound childish, the result of which is often grating and embarrassing. It is all subtitled as well, so the option to quickly switch off these voices is always thankfully there. Meanwhile the actual script varies wildly in quality and intelligence, often dipping into childish frivolity with Jerry, for example, talking like a pirate or making jokes about hamster wheels. Very rarely does it hit the mark of being genuinely witty. Similarly the plot waxes and wanes rather inconsistently. Filled with symbolism marking the loss of innocence, taking place as it does over the last few days of summer (read youth), it has the promise of being far more intelligent than it delivers. There are points, particularly later in the game, when you begin to wonder about the game’s direction and whether it may sting you with a classic Hollywood twist, yet it never takes off leaving the end rather disappointing.
It is hard to figure out whom the target audience was meant to be for The Night of the Rabbit. Despite its classic metaphoric coming of age storyline, despite its lovingly drawn backgrounds that seem to have sprung to life from the pages of children’s stories and despite the innocuous language and childish humour, the incongruous nature of the frustrating puzzles will thwart children unfamiliar with the ancient lore of point and click adventures. Adults however may not be able to rise above the painful voice acting, the tiring infantile jokes and will still be angered by the confusing nature of the gameplay. What we are left with is a game that is heart-achingly beautiful in presentation but without an audience that can really enjoy it. What is perhaps even more confusing is that once the player overcomes the mountain of the first several hours and ventures into the latter game it becomes far more enjoyable. The question is whether anyone without a walkthrough will ever reach this far.