About twenty years ago, I discovered Lucasarts and the SCUMM engine and to this day some of my fondest gaming memories are playing through games like Indiana Jones And the Fate of Atlantis, Full Throttle, and The Dig. Adventure games, aka point-and-click adventures, seemed to almost disappear there for several years, at least the classical type. More recently, they’ve been making a bit of a comeback thanks to games like Cognition and The Night of the Rabbit.
I started The Night of the Rabbit (TNOTR) actually before E3 but wasn’t able to finish it before getting swept up into the madness that is inherent and inevitable with E3. Despite all the happenings and fun, I was looking forward to getting back to TNOTR upon my return. And while the ending wasn’t all that I was hoping for (I said the same about The Last of Us), the adventure getting there had a lot of positives — and yes, some important negatives, too.
To set the table for you, you play as Jeremiah Hazelnut, a young boy who desperately wants to be a magician. Jeremiah lives in a cottage next to a forest with his mother, and it happens to be two days before the end of summer vacation. The optimistic and likeable Jeremiah (I found his voice, dialogue, and good-natured attitude a plus) reminds himself that while the drag of school is only two days away, that also means he has two full days left of adventure. So he takes to the forest and comes across a strange written message that reads like a puzzle. Classic gameplay elements and mechanics that the genre is known for kick in as you search for interactive objects to pickup or learn about. Several ‘scenes’ within this forest give you some freedom to explore as you work to solve this intriguing, wordy riddle.
I’ll admit this first puzzle had me stumped for a good half hour — I must have listened to Jeremiah read the fifteen or so second riddle thirty times before I realized I could just double click on an inventory item and Jeremiah would read a specific line from the message related to that item. That didn’t really bother me, the darn thing was that the item I missed — an interactive prompt over some acorns in a tree — were obscured in my pixel hunting search because of another interactive trigger very close by. For hardcore adventure gamers, this type of frustration just comes with the territory. I wasn’t perturbed, as not only was I used to that sort of thing, but the rest of the experience had been a treat to that point.
Speaking of treats, the hand-drawn artwork of TNOTR is eye candy. With graphic settings maxed out, the fairytale environments really pop. Screenshots included here do probably more justice than my explanations, but it’s clear that one of TNOTR’s strongest assets is its presentation. This visual glee does best for still scenes, which most are — I thought the motion animations were pretty stiff and not as fluid and appealing as the environments. Additionally, framerates take a significant hit at times, for short periods, while transitioning into new areas or sometimes as you go back to others. Naturally, being a PC game, your mileage may vary. That said, I don’t think your opinion of the artwork will vary much from mine though — it’s downright impressive.
Complimenting the art are a great soundtrack and voice acting. Jeremiah’s voice is exactly as you might expect it (that of a young British lad). Marquis de Hoto, the “main” rabbit, and the many forest creatures you meet in Mousewood are well presented, although like practically any game in the genre there are times when the dialogue becomes too repetetive and grating. I typically use subtitles in a game when given a choice just to make sure I “catch” everything. It’s not a bad idea to do so with TNOTR too, as it helps you zip through conversations quicker if you are either in a rush or having to backtrack and re-interact with some NPCs.
Back-tracking through previously visited environments is fairly common, but Jeremiah’s magic spells, including the ability to shift time from night to day, lend not only visual changes, but gameplay changes too. For example, a passage or event that might not be visible or accessible during the day may be there at night. Ultimately, I think there is a sufficient amount of ‘scenes’, but the overall expanse that Jeremiah covers feels a little boxed in. When you’re stumped on a puzzle with vague hints to go on, though, the range of accessible areas may feel quite large.
TNOTR shares both the appeal and the disdain of classic point-and-clickers. You can’t help but marvel at the presentation as a whole, it has a good story and cast of characters, and the feeling of triumph after solving a tough puzzle is still invigorating. Plus, the controls — and being able to highlight every interactive object in a room by looking through the hole in Jeremiah’s special coin — certainly makes the game accessible from a control and exploration standpoint. However, again as typical for the genre, there are some halting puzzles that grind the pace and hurt the experience and those not familiar with this “darker side” of the genre are likely to be put off by it. That said, as with most anything, if you know what you’re getting into going in, you’re likely to have a great time, and the time with The Night of the Rabbit is no exception.