The Night of the Rabbit [Review]
The Night of the Rabbit feels like it’s at odds with itself. Its whimsical story about a boy wanting to become a magician seems a little too childish when matched with the soul-crushing difficulty of its point-and-click puzzles. The challenges in the game are nothing much more difficult than anything else genre veterans have been through before, but combining it with the cutesy story makes me want to cut a swath through Mousewood, leaving it in ruins. There is a lot of charm and appeal to this game; enough that make it well worth playing. Just the same, don’t look at its setting and characters and think you’ll have an easy time. Like the town of Mousewood, there is a hidden, dark side to things.
The game’s artwork was what drew me to it to begin with. It has a very animated look to it, with a similar style to a lot of Don Bluth’s work or to early Disney films. It’s striking, and reminded me a lot of watching old cartoons from when I was the main character’s (Jerry) age. The backgrounds look great, and go to a lot of different locations once you really get into the game. Most pleasantly, each location in the main areas you stick to look widely different from each other as well, making navigating them easy. I knew my way around town pretty well by the game’s end, and could easily hop about using the very specific landmarks. Despite most of the game taking place in the town of Mousewood, Daedelic Entertainment managed to make every screen of it look unique while still adhering to the town’s aesthetic. Each screen felt like it belonged in that town, but was still different and interesting to look at.
They created a wide variety of characters as well — all with their own little details to tell them apart. I tend to be driven crazy by point and click games with huge casts, but The Night of the Rabbit managed to make each individual stand out. The various designs on the animals and mice that inhabited the town were just as varied as the town areas, and it really didn’t take all that long before I could find someone by name. To some extent this is dealt with by using different animals so I could tell everyone apart, but a lot of the details in how they dressed or looked helped me remember who was who as well. The cast was quite large, and I really should have had more trouble remembering who characters were referring to, but each character had a visual personality that made them easy to remember.
I found the voice acting was pretty strong in the game, and helped each character stand out even further. It could get pretty hammy in some instances, but considering this was for what amounts to a child’s story, it seemed appropriate to overact here and there. On top of that, there were some genuinely weird and unsettling voices for the villains and some of the weirder townsfolk, making me cringe or feel nervous the second I heard them. Considering how many games use the same voice actor for multiple people in multiple games (I’m looking at you, Nolan North), it was nice to play a game that had a clear variety of solid voice actors.
The music was also easy on the ears, too. The game actually managed to pull off some strong music that was specifically built for it. Very few games seem to bother creating a powerful theme song for their game. Games like Halo or Gears of War have songs in them that are endemic to what they are; I think of the game after hearing a few notes. The Night of the Rabbit has such a song, and plays it in varying ways throughout the game. It changes the tone of the piece here and there to reflect sadness or adventure, and just does a really solid job of working the song in throughout the game without technically overusing the same track. The rest of the music reflects all manner of emotions over the course of the game, and while most of it is played very subtly, it’s still a great soundtrack. It has a wide range and it all feels very in keeping with the setting.
All of this out-of-control whimsy starts hitting brick walls once you sit down to the puzzles, though. This is the point-and-click genre, though, so I did expect this. The game’s puzzles aren’t really all that much more obtuse than anything else the genre has to offer. Nothing is ever as simple as you think it is. Some of the puzzles have some simple solutions that make sense, but for every one of those there are others that have four or five steps and will drive you berserk. At one point I had to light up an area in order to complete a puzzle I was already a few steps into. A few minutes later I found an item that was filled with a light-creating substance, and the character who gave it to me warned me to be careful with it or I would break it. At that point, I figured I could just smash the thing against the object I needed to light up. Simple enough, right? I couldn’t just use that item where I wanted to and break it, though. Instead, I had to go through four or five other steps that lead to me knocking a guard unconscious and firing the stupid thing out of a cannon. Really? Wasn’t I just told the item was breakable and that I should be careful with it? Couldn’t I just have dropped it? Why did it need all of these extra steps to solve the puzzle?
That was the biggest issue I had with this game’s puzzles. There was rarely a point where solving one puzzle didn’t just open up a series of other puzzles to do. I would be given a quest by one character, something that seemed relatively small, but in order to do it I would need to find three or four other items. In order to get those items I’d have to do quests for other characters, and sometimes those quests would branch out in another three or four directions. By the time I’d actually finish one string to its completion, I’d have forgotten what I was doing in the first place. I’d have to refer back to my journal just to figure out why I cared about a mug of beet juice.
I had similar issues with the first Cognitions: An Erica Reed Thriller. The problem is that I never really felt like I was getting anywhere with the puzzles, and that I would never actually solve anything. I know logically that beating a point-and-click game involves beating a series of linked puzzles, but The Night of the Rabbit made me feel like the puzzles would never end. Just when I’d think I was about to get somewhere, the game would just toss another two puzzles at me to solve the one I was already doing. When things finally did come together I would rapidly solve huge numbers of puzzles all at once, but the feeling of satisfaction at those times didn’t come frequently. More often, I was just frustrated and feeling like I was never going to get anywhere. For once, couldn’t I just solve one puzzle without having six or seven new problems show up? Did I really have to find some new way to make a spider web sticky? Aren’t webs sticky on their own?
What made for some straightforward puzzles were the magic spells you earned. You get four of them over the course of the game, and the points where you needed them were simple. It wasn’t always obvious, but I found that I knew when I would need to use a confusing spell or one that would make a plant grow. These spells felt more age-appropriate to the audience the game was catering to, and I think they would have made a stronger game if they’d been focused on more. Instead, they show up near the end of the game, making the end a little less frustrating than the start. It’s a long, hard road to this point, though.
All of these layered puzzles bugged me quite a bit, so I can only imagine how they would feel for the younger audience the game feels suited for. The game does tug at my nostalgia for old animated films somewhat, but the overall feel of the game does seem better suited to a child. The game is just a little too cute most of the time, and despite some dark aspects late in the game never feels like it moves away from that feeling. As such, the obtuse and mixed puzzles seem to be far too difficult for its target audience. Even if it was built for people like me, I could have used a lot more puzzles that would be solved more easily without taking five or six steps that only made sense in the game world.
The story does get a little dark in places so that it feels more appropriate for an adult (considering some of the messed up stuff I saw in children’s movies as a kid, I’m not completely sure on this), but the plot isn’t quite good enough to be for an adult. The game’s main villain is hinted at for some time, but it’s only when you beat him that you get almost ten minutes of exposition on why he became the way he did. None of this was weaved through the story in any decent way, but was dumped on the player in the finale in one huge clump. There’s no reason for that, and especially no reason why there was a whole new magical McGuffin that was brought up in that cutscene. If this item was going to be the impetus for the villain’s actions, then it probably should have been brought up at some point during the game. It felt cheap, and cut into what felt like an otherwise decent story.
The other dark aspects felt like they fit in with the storyline, but that they weren’t resolved well. There are a few more villains in the game that have no real motivation. That’s not a huge problem since few stories do a decent job motivating their villains, but the game just felt like it was throwing them in to be dark. It seemed to explore a handful of themes and lessons, but it didn’t follow them through. It also tacked on some message about being friendly to the environment, except it never followed up on it and sort of just tossed it in there. Pollution is bad, now let’s go fight a magician? It felt like it was trying to be dark to justify why an adult would buy it, but failed to explore any of these things to an extent where an intelligent adult would take anything from them.
With its story and puzzles frustrating me, the game did have some diversions to keep me busy. It had its own card game that appears after a few hours, and it’s not that bad. It’s nothing even close to my Triple Triad obsession from Final Fantasy VIII, but Quartet is still fuun. You can challenge several other characters in the game to play, and the object is to build up groups of four cards of the same suit in your hand. The game has eight sets of four cards, and you can ask your opponent for a card on your turn. If they have the card you asked for, you get the card and can keep asking. It starts off as a guessing game, but as you keep track of what your opponent hasn’t had and what he is asking you for during his turn, you get a feel for what cards you can get. It’s a fun little diversion for when you’re losing your temper, but nothing I spent much time with.
While you’re clicking around the environment looking for the one item that will solve the puzzle, you may find one of the game’s collectibles. There are hidden dewdrops, stickers, Quartet cards, and stories all kicking around the environment in some way. Using the item that highlights clickable things won’t show you where they are, so instead you’ll be stuck looking around the environment for them yourself. It’s kind of nice to have them at times as you click around an area while looking for something as it makes returning to the same areas over and over again a little easier, but they don’t actually do much of anything. It was a nice gesture, but it’s not like you’re going to unlock some secret weapon.
I wanted to like The Night of the Rabbit more than I actually did like it. The puzzles rarely give you any satisfaction; often bleeding into more puzzles and providing continual frustration even for a point-and-click game. The storyline can’t keep its tone straight, and despite having a lot of charm feels like it’s trying too hard to be dark when it never needed to be. I loved the artwork and music, but really felt like a game that was more in keeping with the childish world those things set up would have been more fun to play. The game is definitely interesting and worth your time, but it really could have been better if it had stuck to one core audience.