Hopping Brilliant: A Review Of The Night Of The Rabbit

AAtnotr2In workshops, bedrooms, and studios across the world, people who grew up on titles like Space Quest and The Curse of Monkey Island  are now making their own adventure games. Proudly wearing their influences on their sleeves, they’re making strides in the genre by cherry-picking their favourite elements in these games and using them in their own. It’s been fascinating to watch the genre’s evolution, even if the results can sometimes be mixed.

But the results can be spectacular, too. Extraordinary, even. Influences and ideas can coalesce into something truly one-of-a-kind, which brings us to The Night of The Rabbit—the most outstanding game I’ve played this year.

Jerry Hazelnut only has two days left in his summer vacation, and he’s determined to have one final adventure before heading back to school. In The Night of The Rabbit, Jerry’s vivid imagination takes hold of his world immediately, and soon you find yourself aiding Jerry in his quest to help the citizens of a mystical town called Mousewood.

As soon as you begin, two things about The Night of The Rabbit will instantly hit you and make you realize that the developers at Deadalic Entertainment took their time creating this experience.

Firstly, there’s the art style. Protagonist Jerry Hazelnut’s adventure in Mousewood is hand-drawn and lavish, perfectly blending magic and spectacle with the uneasiness of the town’s woes. Every single screen looks wonderful.

The second thing that stands out is one simple, tiny object. In the first moments of the game, Jerry finds a unique coin that he can use to reveal the hidden wonders of the world. For players, this means that with a click of the mouse wheel you will instantly be able to see every object that you can interact with. This immediately eliminates the “pixel hunt” problem most adventure games suffer from, and allows players to focus solely on the narrative.

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And what a narrative it is. Many superlative things can be said about nearly every aspect of The Night of The Rabbit, but by far the greatest accomplishment is the story. Writer Matt Kempke has created a fiction that’s rich and complex, and the embellishment of every minor character serves the overall tone of the world, too. It’s not about the history of that world or establishing it as a real place, it’s more about the feeling of it. By the halfway point in the game, Mousewood doesn’t feel like a map so much as it feels like your own neighbourhood.

Everything becomes intuitive; the characters inform the town, and the town informs them. A quaintness—a familiarity—is established, and I simply can’t remember the last time I felt like I knew a place and its inhabitants so well.

Remarkably, nearly every story that develops gets resolved by the end of the game, too. Typically, when multiple story threads are presented in a game, they’re introduced as side quests. These arbitrary, optional addendums can have their own fantastic stories, but they often don’t have any bearing on the main, over-arching narrative. The Night of The Rabbit not only introduces all of these characters and their stories, but it seamlessly weaves them into the main narrative by making them part of the puzzle-solving process.

Even without that added texture, the ending to this game (or more aptly, this story) alone is powerful enough to justify playing it. The game’s message never feels heavy-handed, the entire presentation is an exercise in elegance, and—while giving too much away here would spoil the ending—even the unresolved narrative threads are ultimately still addressed.

It’s simply one of the finest final acts and finales I have ever experienced.

Tilo Alpermann deserves a tip of the hat, as well. As the game’s composer, he’s helped create the mood and overall tone of Mousewood nearly as much as Kempke’s writing. The melodies are all gorgeous, the score is wonderfully recorded, and the final act in particular does some spectacular things with the game’s sounds, music, and themes.

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There’s really only one misstep that I could realistically point to, and even it is somewhat subjective in nature. Seasoned players may find the puzzles ideal, but they are, at times, fiendishly and unnecessarily difficult. For example, you can sometimes have everything you need to solve a puzzle, but you can’t because certain other conditions aren’t met yet. It’s a Catch-22 of the genre, but The Night of The Rabbit occasionally fails to provide feedback that these other conditions aren’t met. It’s a shame that the difficulty of some of the puzzles will likely prevent some players from seeing the story through.

One final thing to know about The Night of The Rabbit is that the pacing is very deliberate. In the early stages of the game, I was less than pleased that things were taking so long; the pacing just felt wrong. But the more I heard what characters had to say, and the more I discovered how everything was tying together, it became clear that the game is intended to move at this slightly more metered pace. Scenes will play out longer than expected, and musical interludes will last for the entirety of a song – this game serves its story by simply taking its time.

As such, it’s a rather lengthy experience. The game is roughly four acts, and there are plenty of discovery options, hours of fully voice-acted dialogue, collectibles… even a card game called Quartets that you can play independent of the main campaign. It wouldn’t be uncharacteristic to thoroughly enjoy upwards of 20-25 hours in Mousewood.

In all honesty, it’s uncomfortable to want to gush about a game this much. There’s a maelstrom of  criticism about games in 2013, and it almost makes you feel guilty about truly loving an experience. But The Night of The Rabbit is a game that I unequivocally loved – and for once, that requires no caveat.

Pixels or Death gives The Night of The Rabbit 4.5 out of 5

  • Sarah Dennison

    Beautifully written. This definitely makes me want to check out the game. I love how you referred to the side stories/quests as “texture.” :)

  • Celeb

    I can’t see this game’s title and not think of that cheesy “Night of the Lepus” movie. Nice review!

  • Pamon

    I can completly agree. Great game! =) Nice review ;)

  • Mouse

    I’m a pretty jaded gamer at this point, but I fell in love with this game like I haven’t in a long time.