For years, Daedelic Games has made adventure games and, perhaps unconsciously, tried to place itself in the esteemed company of the legends of the genre, Sierra On-Line Games and LucasArts. Critics and gamers alike felt Daedelic's beautiful graphics and thoughtful stories were almost there, but the titles were severely hampered by one thing or another, such as terrible voice acting, obscure puzzles or translation bugs. The Night of the Rabbit is the company's latest release, and it shows that it's making some great progress.
In The Night of the Rabbit, you play Jeremiah Hazelnut, a 12-year-old boy who lives between the woods and the town but has aspirations of becoming a great magician. You join him two days before the start of the school year, and while he laments that he's restarting the daily grind, he wants to have a more positive outlook and searches for adventure. At that moment, a mysterious letter shows up, and he is met by the Marquis de Hoto, a talking rabbit and master magician. Presented with this opportunity, Jeremiah becomes the apprentice to the Marquis and sets off to become a great magician — all before dinnertime.
The adventure game genre relies heavily on the story, and this one is quite fascinating. The focus is always on Jeremiah, but there's an equal amount of mystery surrounding the world of Mousewood and the Marquis. The game starts with you taking control of the Marquis, who doesn't seem to know much when he meets a woodsprite in the foggy woods. The story progresses with Jeremiah's journey into his apprenticeship, but the intrigue is kept alive with the lingering mystery of the Marquis's identity and why other characters keep popping in and out of the game.
Part of that fascination comes from the many tonal shifts that occur throughout the game. It starts happily and with a lighthearted mood. Jeremiah jokes around and breaks the fourth wall now and then, especially during the tutorial. Characters spout humorous lines that elicit chuckles, though they aren't enough to make the game a full-fledged comedy. Delve deeper and discover more characters and events, and the humor slowly fades away while a more serious tone takes its place. Then everything gets darker as more serious themes and events come into play. Despite the game's many tonal changes in a 10-hour time span, it flows into the changes naturally, and none of it feels out of place or sudden.
The result is one of the better self-contained stories the company has created. By going for different nuances and themes, it feels more like an adaptation of a movie or novel rather than a typical adventure game plot. There's is a level of depth in this original story that's present in only a few other titles in the genre. The pacing never feels rushed, and there's a sense of intrigue that keeps you engaged. This is certainly a step up from the company's other titles, which tend to follow one tone and don't deviate from it.
The Night of the Rabbit is a very traditional point-and-click adventure game in just about every way. You'll talk to every character you meet and try to get important items from them by fulfilling every favor they ask of you. Sometimes, the player is presented with a few dialogue choice sections to gain more information about the world, none of which adversely affect the story. Most of the gameplay revolves around puzzles that take place over multiple screens in multiple environments.
As fans of the company would have surmised, the game employs an uncomplicated system that uses the mouse, and a few key strokes act as alternate methods to pull up commands. The inventory screen is brought up with the mouse wheel, and all of your moves, from looking to talking to combining, are handled automatically within the given context and with just two mouse buttons. While you can move the cursor all over the screen to identify what you can interact with, hitting the spacebar or middle mouse button lets you see exactly what you can mess with. The mechanic may seem to be a hand-holding device, but a few puzzles actually use it as a legitimate part of the solution.
One of the big complaints about the genre is that puzzles and solutions are often nonsensical. Interestingly, the game does a good job of mostly avoiding that pitfall. Part of this is because the magic spells you learn become pretty integral to puzzles, bridging any logic gaps. Other times, there is some logical thought in how to solve the puzzle using the tools at your disposal. Using specific tools to create a makeshift boat, for example, or using garden tools to thwart a thief never seems odd. The game doesn't hold your hand when it comes to these solutions, so expect to put in some thought, but you won't question how it makes sense once you find the right combination of items to use.
This isn't to say that the gameplay isn't flawed, aside from a few obtuse puzzles. The final puzzle may feel wildly different, but it's skippable, so it isn't a very big obstacle. Repeating dialogue has been part of adventure games for a while, but there are times when the repeated lines are so long that they become irksome enough to warrant speed-clicking through them. Some puzzles and clickable elements, especially the optional ones, require such specific positioning that it can take a few attempts. The hint system is disappointing because it feels broken. The idea is that you ask for the Marquis' help when you need direction or hints. It sounds like a good feature, but it fails in practice because the hints aren't useful. You're simply given a reminder of the larger task at hand, and no amount of questioning gets you closer to an answer or even a hint.
Whereas most games focus on the main adventure and no more, The Night of the Rabbit does an admirable job of giving the player lots more to do. Dew drop collection throughout the game is the least rewarding, as it just gives you a Steam Achievement, but it is a nice diversion for very observant gamers. The same can be said for the sticker collection aspect, though it feels more valuable because you get tidbits about some of the kids in the world. Story collection is far more rewarding, as you can read through stories about Mousewood and get more background story. Then there's Quartets, a Go Fish-like clone that can be played at any time against anyone you meet. The game is simple but lots of fun, and while it's purely optional, it is a good enough distraction that you'll want to squeeze in a round or two between some of the more complicated puzzles.
Graphically, the game is similar in style to The Whispered World, one of Daedelic's earlier efforts. The backgrounds are all rendered wonderfully, with a myriad of colors and details that are reminiscent of a very nice painting or a beautiful backdrop in a hand-drawn animated movie. From the simplest to the most ornate pieces, each one looks excellent, especially when the layering effects provide some depth. The presence of fog or falling leaves give the illusion of being bigger than everything else, and that adds a sense of wonder to each scene. The characters provide a similar amount of detail but are much more brightly colored, making them stand out against the more muted backgrounds. The only flaw in this category is in the animations. Mouth movements are minimal and are restricted to a few frames of looping animation, and other actions are also limited to a scant few frames of animation. It might not be bothersome to genre veterans, but with the advances in technology and the game striving for a high-definition look, the lack of smoother animations is noticeable.
As for the sound, it's also well done. The score fits with the situations, going from calm melodies during normal situations to a robust theme during important scenes. The voice work is also good, with the actors matching up fine with their given characters. There are a few instances of lines being presented with the wrong inflections, but for the most part, the audio is fine. The minuses in this category come from a few technical issues. Balancing has to be done on the user's end since the default setup causes some scenes to have barely audible dialogue while the musical score blares away. Also, some lines abruptly end, so the final word doesn't finish or there's a noticeable sound of static popping when the line ends.
The Night of the Rabbit is certainly one of Daedelic's better games. The gameplay is faithful to the point-and-click adventure genre blueprint, but only with a few obtuse puzzles. The presentation isn't perfect, but it's rather beautiful and boasts some great visuals and set pieces. It's the story, though, that really carries the title by capturing the attention of the player with the film-like pacing and tonal shifts. For adventure game fans, this title is well worth your time.
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