There was a time when point and click adventure games ruled the gaming world. It was a time when the likes of Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer bestrode the planet with Teva sandal and sock firmly imbedded in the hearts and minds of a generation of gamers. It seems unusual to need to look back almost 20 years to find context for a game that popped up with Steam achievements and all the expected modern accoutrements – but the similarities and heart-breaking differences need to be aired and examined. The Night of The Rabbit is through-and-through an old-school point and click adventure game – a modern relic from a bygone era.
The opening act is a surreal encounter with the titular rabbit and a voodoo-esque Woodsprite. From the outset, the game fills the screen with a deep fairy-tale lore – something that German developer Daedalic has proven to be skilled in. Each new set-piece is bursting with detail and beautifully hand-drawn backdrops. The mystical shrunken world of Mousewood recalls the (Monkey) island of Puerto Pollo both in colour scheme and humid mystery around every bend. The genre is adventure, and while it might not raise a pulse rate like being harangued by zombies or dangling off a zipline in an Americana dreamworld – there is a tangible degree of wonder present in the game world.
Setting the game in a Borrowers meets Alice in Wonderland social mixer means the game can spin a fairly audacious story. Protagonist Jerry Hazelnut is a 12-year-old boy who wishes to be a magician (although he also expresses a strong desire to be a radio DJ at one point). With little more promting an immortal, cross-dimensional Victorian rabbit-man blows into town and sweeps young Jerry off into a time-condensed whirlwind magical induction.
With Leprechauns, Dwarves, small field animals, reptiles and the occasional stone head, there are plenty of conversations, and there’s also the mounting sense that time is running out for Jerry to complete his tasks before the bubble bursts and the rabbit, named The Marquis de Hoto, proves to be a little more sinister than many of the eight-year-olds playing this game will have suspected.
The core dynamic of the game is to collect seemingly unrelated items, talk to a host of characters for clues and combine the aforementioned items to solve a puzzle and move on to the next. The inventory system is accessed by a simple roll of the mouse-wheel, interactions with items, people and map features are handled by a dynamically shifting reticule. This cuts down on the number of permutations each item or scenario can generate. Extra complexity is added to the puzzles with the inclusion of a magic coin that shows an alternate view of the current scene. The puzzles are devious enough to stump a seasoned adventurer from time to time, which brings out an almost forgotten quality of the genre – going outside for a think.
Frustration can mount in an adventure game, one area The Night of The Rabbit is lacking in a little polish. Vocal interactions with characters can be skipped through, but often the game suffers from unnatural pauses between blocks of dialogue, making an accidental or necessary repeat marginally more tedious than it ought to be. The savegame mechanism isn’t without glitch either - complete a scene’s dialogue, inventory building and actions and then save and quit – the player will be back at the beginning of the scene upon the next load. While it’s not a major bug, it should be ironed out at the next opportunity.
One thing that made LucasArts adventure titles stand out – especially in the CD-ROM era – was the dialogue. As a spiritual successor, The Night of The Rabbit does well enough at providing an entertaining and snappy collection of lines for its various actors to deliver. The majority of on-screen action occurs under a thick range of British accents which particularly suit the quaint forest and spell-casting setting. While the voice acting is excellent, some of the dialogue is cringe inducing, especially on a second or third try. Jerry is particularly well written.
Slight pauses and delays coupled with limited animations for the characters do create a jarred experience at times, however. Helping to ease the atmosphere is the music, which is more often than not a gentle arrangement of soft guitar and strings. It feels as if real musicianship has gone into the score rather than an off-the-shelf session deal, and it goes a long way to improving the overall quality of the game.
The Night of The Rabbit is a good, solid title in a genre filled with classics. It has a subdued charm, witty and perplexing puzzles, and is only really let down by minor technical niggles that always have the potential to be rectified. It’s a title that’s aimed at a younger audience so may feel a little patronising for adults seeking out the adventures of their past – but it’s far from a bad starting off point for the current generation.