Children’s stories and fairytales with talking animals, dwarves and spirits are the stuff dreams are made of and don’t belong to the real world with its technological advances? Matt(hias) Kempke’s (known for his involvement with the indie games What Makes You Tick) first Daedalic-published point-and-click adventure game The Night of the Rabbit shows that the magic is still not lost even for those who thought they’d grown up and out of these fantasy worlds.
The Night of the Rabbit
(Germany 2013, developer/publisher: Daedalic Entertainment, platform: PC)
Young boy Jeremiah Hazelnut is drawn into a magical world by the rabbit Marquis de Hoto to become a magician, but also has to prevent the idyllic town of Mousewood and his own reality from falling into the hands of some sinister force.
Wonderland of storytelling
Adventure games set in a fantasy world are usually quite ambitious in their creation of a background story and their main character(s)’ journey through its different regions. The Night of the Rabbit might feel like a simple children’s story at first sight with its cute inhabitants and idyllic scenery, but it doesn’t take long until some creepy strangers turn up and become a danger to be reckoned with. The way these are introduced is subtle and even if the ending is a bit too long with its exposition, the way the player experiences this new threat is much more sophisticated and better realized than in other contemporary adventure games which might have a big bad wolf of their own, but seldom deliver anything other than a run-of-the-mill antagonist. Still unlike What Makes You Tick: A Stitch In Time which revealed more and more story elements with each new puzzle chain solved, there isn’t the same pacing here, making it a much less suspenseful venture.
Despite its colorful places to visit and friendly inhabitants to talk to, Jeremiah’s’s story is not without its sad moments or scary elements. Like most children’s stories and fairy tales, there are insights into loneliness, fear but also promises of hope and redemption. It’s a tale which at some point becomes quite surreal and not suited at all for the 0+ audience the German USK rating board seems to be so fond of giving to Daedalic titles.
Like The Whispered World, there is something both dream-and-nightmare-like in the presentation of the story and world which doesn’t necessarily have the same weight as the often-overlong The Longest Journey with its friction between reality and fantasy, but still makes the player always come back for more. It’s also refreshing to see that unlike Daedalic’s more comedic adventures, the script doesn’t suffer from too many cheap one-liners or slapstick scenes. The main character or NPCs might not have the most profound things to say, but this doesn’t mean that they’re any less likeable or believable.
Sidequesting and more stories to tell
What’s especially intriguing is how some of the background story about the world is revealed through short stories. These are told by the mysterious Woodsprite and can be listened to individually in the menu’s extras section. So whoever thinks that the characters are stereotypical fairytale creatures without any depth or that the fantasy world is a beautiful but empty painting, should definitely take the time and delve into these narrative segments, as they’re not only enjoyable on their own, but also add another layer to the immersion.
Additional insight into the lore of Mousewood and its surroundings comes after completing side quests. Even if this is a classic point-and-click adventure, there are tasks the player can perform which are not essential for story completion, but nonetheless add to the enjoyment of this strange world. Some might stem from casual gaming with the collecting of dew drops or animal stickers which are hidden on the screen and unlock some secret later on, while there’s also a quartet card game which can be played with some characters after finding them in remote places. The former one can be a bit tedious, although it’s a nice distraction if one gets stuck on the puzzles. The latter one is actually quite a lot of fun and even ties into the story itself at the end. It’s also possible to talk to stones which are scattered around who tell their own stories and sometimes want Jeremiah to do something for them.
Heavy puzzle chain lifting
With so much talk about the realization of a believable world, there’s also the question how the game actually plays. It’s mostly object combinations business as usual (thankfully without any mini games or boring logic puzzles) which doesn’t offer a lot of originality for the most part. But as What Makes You Tick: A Stitch In Time showed, this doesn’t have to be a bad thing at all, as long as it’s fun to work out the solutions to simultaneous problems and be immersed in the story, even if the latter remains a bit too much and too long in the background.
Unfortunately the help system fails to give enough hints. It’s a bit weird that the hotspot key is only later introduced, although it’s explained in the story, but what’s even weirder is that the ingame icon/spell for help simply regurgitates what Jeremiah’s rabbit mentor already said before. A step-by-step solution would have been nice and caused fewer problems for less patient gamers, especially since getting stuck happens quite often, and wandering around for the smallest clue can be frustrating as well. It also doesn’t help that the travelling option of calling a postman frog with a bell at specific points isn’t the fastest.
Unlike some reviews which state that there are no hints at all, either spoken by the characters or found in the game world, there actually are a few. One only has to listen to the NPCs and look around the scenerey. It might sound strange, but this harks right back to oldschool adventure gaming when some strange item combinations simply felt as if they made sense, and going back and forth between the locations revealed new ideas. Looking at all the logic puzzles in other adventure titles also reveals that these are much more frustrating and boring than having different tasks at hand with sometimes crazy solutions. It’s certainly not a game which makes puzzle solving easier by having the player enclosed in a set number of screens and a few obvious items in the inventory. Far from it, as most places can already be visited right from the start. Usually there are a couple of puzzle chains to solve at the same time and on the way some others can be undone as well, often without the player’s awareness.
You put a spell on the puzzle design
What makes puzzle solving even more complicated, but also more interesting is the use of spells. These are unlocked one by one in the course of the story and can range from talking to stones to making plants grow. It borrows a bit from the Metroid action-adventure series, only without the fighting, because with the new abilities Jeremiah can reach more places and perform actions he couldn’t do before, making it that bit less boring to go to the same places again and again. It also has to be said that the magic system makes for some original puzzles and seldom feels like a cheap feature or overwhelming to use.
A very interesting spell which also shows the similarity to A Stitch In Time‘s puzzles is the way how Jeremy can change between day and night. It doesn’t only present the game world in a different ambience, but also makes interacting with the environment or the characters part of the gameplay as well, highlighting the fact that it’s a breathing and living world with its inhabitants following their own agendas, depending on the time.
The discussion of art in games continues with these images
Daedalic games have always been works of art in their presentation, no matter if the content was full of flat jokes or a bit clichéd. With last year’s The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav, it already showcased how a fantasy setting could be painted with beautiful background pictures.
The world of Mousewood is mostly different in tone and reminiscent of children animated movies Winnie The Pooh or Watership Down, but also borrows from Japanese culture. This is a compliment, as colors are vivid and the player perceives a general feeling of content when being in this fantasy world. It’s even more impressive that despite these comparisons, Mousewood never feels like a cheap rip-off of wellknown fairy tales or movies. Some scenes might look like out of Alice in Wonderland (not to forget the whole story of following a rabbit into a fantasy world), but the character drawings and backgrounds still feel like one whole, even if this is composed of childhood memories.
Sublime voices and ethereal music
The soundtrack is as varied and memorable with its many folklore songs as the English voice acting is with its professional cast. None of the characters seems to have a single exaggerated line, no loss in intonation quality and even for someone like me who usually can’t stand listening to British posh or high-pitched voices, it never grinds on the ears. This is suprising, as with so many animal characters it could have gone into a totally different (wrong) direction like so many animated movies are known for. Like the music, it all somehow fits perfectly, only the volume of the voices could have been a bit better handled.
A marvellous achievement with the need of some improvement
Matt(hias) Kempke already proved himself to be well-versed with his dreamlike drawings and wonderful storytelling in the What Makes You Tick games, and the same level of quality again shows in the ambitious tales from Mousewood. The puzzle design might not be as fluid and the main plot not as engaging as in A Stitch In Time, but then again it’s not really a fair comparison. The same holds true for putting the game on the same wall as Daedalic’s other titles.
The Night of the Rabbit is less crazy with its game world, but no less charming. The puzzles are a bit obscure at some points, but they make perfect sense in the world they’re implemented. And it’s a wonderful place to be in, to revisit and to dream about even after the credits roll. Even without doing all the side quests, this will take at least 15 hours. These are not without frustrations for both beginners and advanced players, and while the emphasis on puzzles can overshadow the general plot and be detrimental to the main motivation to help Jeremiah on his way, it’s still a journey worth taking.
At this point, Daedalic’s box version also has to be praised for being one full of additional content. Not only does it include a wonderful double-sided poster and soundtrack, also the short stories can be found on a separate disc. Unfortunately these are only in German, but the Steam version includes them as well. So hopefully sometime in the future a boxed version like this with some wonderful artwork will be made available in English-speaking countries as well. I also found a comic and soundtrack in the Steam folder, the former being in English as well. So again Daedalic is one of those special companies who don’t simply throw their products on the market without any love, as these lovingly crafted bundles illustrate.
Another (more negative) point of discussion is how the various download versions can conflict. I played both the GOG and Steam one and had some major graphical problems like overlapping animations or white boxes littering the screen at the end, which either has to do with the Visionaire engine or that the game uses the same savegame folder resulting in some corrupted data (as the two versions don’t seem to be compatible). Either way, it’s best to choose the preferred distribution platform… and maybe get the box version as well with all the additional content… to make Daedalic also release it on other countries’ shelves with enough success :).
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