Do you remember the picture books of your childhood? The cozy, sun-dappled worlds encountered in the pages of A. A. Milne and Beatrix Potter were a soothing antidote to the frequent cruelty and unfairness of daily life. The Night of the Rabbit, an indie point-and-click adventure by Daedalic Entertainment, is the digital equivalent of those picture books: visually and aurally lush, with a cast of charming animal characters and a human boy as the plucky protagonist. It's an engaging companion for an evening's play but unfortunately it can also be a little too long-winded for its own good.
Jeremiah Hazelnut is a cheerful young lad who heads out one morning determined to make the most of the two days of summer he has left. He certainly finds adventure in the form of a strangely alive letter that bounds out of his mailbox. Upon following the instructions within he summons an old magician's trunk—and a six foot tall talking rabbit in a purple frock coat called the Marquis de Hoto.
The rabbit is a magician and a treewalker, able to transport himself between worlds. He is looking for an apprentice and Jerry, an aspiring magician himself and possessor of a mysterious magical coin, is his choice. To begin his training the Marquis takes Jerry back to Mousewood, an enchanting realm where hedgehogs repair boats and a dainty mouse on roller skates named Anja runs the local café. As Jerry, you will start small, solving puzzles and combining inventory items to perform errands for the Mousewood folk. But after a lengthy series of quests you will gain the magical knowledge necessary to combat the evil that threatens to unravel this idyllic world...
The Night of the Rabbit is a point-and-click adventure in the traditional style, which means there are loads of puzzles to solve in between all the dialogue. Talking, and picking up and using items are all accomplished with a single click of the mouse, and scrolling the mouse wheel is all it takes to open your inventory. Holding down the wheel activates Jerry's magic sight, highlighting all the clickable spots on the screen and occasionally turning up a hidden wood sprite or elf. The territory you cover is quite large and a easily-accessible game map is not available, so progress can get tedious at times and will require plenty of trial and error. Luckily the puzzles are mostly sensible, and the solutions never get as bizarre as they were in the good old days of Sierra and LucasArts.
Analysis: Oh, how gorgeous this game is. We wouldn't be surprised to learn that Daedalic Entertainment had holed up in the children's section of the library prior to making this game as the scenery evokes happy memories of the warm, enveloping forests drawn by Arnold Lobel or E.H. Shepard. In screenshots it looks good but in motion it positively blooms, as dandelion seeds waft by on the breeze and fireflies dance in the soft lantern glow at the Hare family's birthday party. It's a vision of childhood as it might exist in the Western collective unconsicous: safe, comfortable, warm, and a little bit magical. The universally excellent voice acting just adds to the charm.
If only the script were up to the high standards set by the art. Make no mistake, the dialogue is witty and written with a novelist's skill. The pacing, however, is off. Seriously off. The first several hours of the game are ostensibly Jerry's trial period in which he proves himself worthy of magic study, but it seemed to us more like a series of poorly-signposted fetch quests.
The game in general suffers from this lack of direction. Why are you here? What's the point? Who are these strange masked creatures? Where's the big bad guy? A little mystery is good storytelling but these questions are left unanswered for far too long. If you're not yelling, "GET ON WITH IT!" after five hours of charming and funny but pointless dialogue with your animal friends you are made of sterner stuff than we are. The game's initial refusal to open up can get frustrating, but the story gets more involving as Jerry's magical skills grow and the radiant setting and soundtrack will be enough to carry many through the dozy bits.
German game studio Daedalic Entertainment has been sustaining the genre of story-driven point-and-click for years now with games like A New Beginning and Edna & Harvey: The Breakout, and The Night of the Rabbit is a typically well-produced addition to their resumé. Other adventure games may be less unwieldy but few are endowed with this much atmosphere. While its poor pacing frequently tried our patience, The Night of the Rabbit is an enchanting trip down the rabbit hole we're glad we took.
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