The Night of the Rabbit preview
The Night Of The Rabbit is an upcoming adventure game offering from Daedalic, a developer who is becoming quite well known for its efforts to revitalise the point-&-click genre. However, unlike companies such as Telltale they have chosen an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" attitude and produce games which stick stylistically very close to the graphic adventures of the 1990s. The Night Of The Rabbit is therefore a very traditional 2D adventure game, albeit one with gorgeous high resolution graphics which take full advantage of what our PCs are capable of today. If you have played any of the company’s previous offerings such as The Whispered World or Deponia then you know exactly what to expect. Differing from those games, Daedalic seems to be aiming squarely at the children's market with this one.
This is a light-hearted and extremely colourful game which brings to mind memories of Sierra On-Line classic King's Quest VII and even Willy Beamish. Beginning quite mysteriously it manages to draw you in from the opening scenes; amongst the branches of a fog-covered tree you take control of a silent rabbit/man creature and encounter some kind of spirit who tells us we need to find the beginning of our story and will help guide us. It's kind of creepy.
From that enticing and confusing opening we are dropped into the world of Jerry Hazelnut, a young boy living at home with his mother and right at the end of his school holidays. He has two days left to have adventures. Jerry lives in a charming little house amongst the woods at the edge of town and seems to spend his time friendless and playing amongst the trees with dreams of becoming a magician. Before long, Jerry receives a mysterious letter with obtuse instructions for ingredients to create a magical item. Successfully figuring out this puzzle and creating the item marks the start of the game properly. The rabbit creature from the game's intro reveals himself to Jerry and introduces himself as the Marquis de Hoto. The Marquis is a magician and a "Treewalker" and is able to cross between different worlds using certain magical trees as portals. He wants Jerry to become his apprentice.
This early section of the game acts as a tutorial for what is to come. If you've had any experience playing point-&-click adventures then parts of it will feel entirely unnecessary - and indeed Daedalic give you the welcome option to skip the earliest part of it entirely so you can get right down to the puzzle solving. Saying that, it is one of the more peculiar and intriguing methods of presenting a tutorial as the instructions are given to you by the DJ on your radio as part of a morning calisthenics program.
These early parts unfortunately show up an issue which Daedalic have had with their games before: the voice acting begins to grate almost immediately. This was a major complaint about the English version of The Whispered World and something they managed to rectify well enough for the Deponia games, but it's back here in force. Thankfully, our protagonist Jerry is nowhere near as off-putting as the nasally whine which came out of Sadwick, it's just quite bland and stilted. Every character here appears to have something resembling the Received Pronunciation British accent (the typical slightly posh southern English often used on film and TV), and some actors pull this off better than others; there are characters that fare much better as the game progresses. Being aimed more at children, there are moments here where you feel like you could be watching Blue Peter.
This game opening is good fun, the puzzles felt rewarding to solve and it moves along at a brisk pace, but once you meet the Marquis and are taken away to the town of Mousewood, everything slows down and the game becomes very talky. This is an area where adult players may lose interest as characters all speak as if they are talking down to a child (which, to be fair, is exactly what your character is). Dialogue tends to repeat heavily as well and several of the conversations you've already sat through go on far too long.
It's during this section that the game feels confused as to what it wants to be. The story, characters, acting and dialogue all appear to make the game a children's adventure, but the puzzle design borders on pushing the difficulty a little high for younger players. We can only imagine that Daedalic intends for the game to be played by parents and children together. The game does have a built in hint system but its integration in this preview appeared to be unfinished as it didn't offer any useful advice other than a reminder of what the overall goals were.
Focusing more on what the game does right, the graphics are absolutely beautiful. Hand drawn backgrounds immediately recall fond memories of classic adventure games and the high resolution allows for them to really shine. The drawings are lush and vibrant and do an excellent job of lending a magical feel to the environments. The characters are given a slightly more simple design and colour scheme which helps them stand out against the backdrops, although the animation can feel a little "floaty". Daedalic consistently make their games look fantastic and the overall effect is one of playing through a Disney or Studio Ghibli film. Special note also needs to be given to a rather gorgeous musical score which offers up a range of different moods; the menu music brings to mind The Lord of the Rings while once we get into the game it all becomes suitably quaint and playful.
After trudging through the early parts of Mousewood our time with the game ended just as it was beginning to get more interesting as outside threats are introduced. Hopefully, the whole game won’t flit back and forth between fun sections which require you to think on your feet and long parts in which you are required to slowly speak to a dozen or so characters. There’s a major issue with dialogue repetition which needs to be fixed and that combined with the irritating voices for important characters has the potential to make people switch off before they get very far. A lot of magic potential rests in this game and hopefully it isn't destined to become too diluted. We will be able to find out when The Night of the Rabbit is released on May 29th.