"The game takes a dark turn toward the end and builds to a wonderful, artful climax that makes it easy to forgive the game's earlier pacing issues."
Anything is possible on a day in summer vacation.
Even an adventure of a dozen days and nights in which a boy saves another world as well as his own, though few know of his journey. In Daedalic's latest point and click adventure, The Night of the Rabbit, twelve-year-old Jerry Hazelnut's dreams of being a magician take him farther than he could have imagined. As apprentice to the titular red-eyed rabbit, Jerry enters the world of Mousewood, a realm of sentient mice, whispering stone statues, and sites of ethereal beauty. Jerry soon discovers that there is more to being a magician than learning spells, and the player might just learn something too, particularly if he or she is around Jerry's age. Children will likely benefit most from The Night of the Rabbit, but there's enough magic and mystery herein to keep adults interested as they stand over a child's shoulder to offer hints for the game's many tough, occasionally unfair puzzles.
The Night of the Rabbit is a work of art in which the individual components are often greater than their sometimes incohesive sum. There are instances of brilliant imagination, quiet wisdom, compelling mystery, and even genuine weirdness, which is a necessity for any great creative work. Some characters and scenarios seem out of place in the Mousewood mythos, certain conversations unravel awkwardly, and some of the themes are unsophisticated, but there are sparkling moments that elevate the game above its peers. The miniature world of Mousewood shines with details like acorn cap headphones, firefly lights, and a medical bandage used to patch a toadstool rooftop. A young owl known for mussing the town hall's books rearranges the objects in Jerry's inventory when she finds her way into his backpack. Jerry solves many puzzles using boyish pranks that subtly enhance his character: adding soporific valerian drops to a cup of coffee or stealing the clothes of a bathing leprechaun. To reveal more of these stirring fragments would only spoil the game's many secrets, and discovery is a large part of the experience.
Unfortunately, The Night of the Rabbit's puzzle design and poor hint system will test the patience of both children and adults. The game isn't without its "Eureka!" moments, but many puzzles require lengthy leaps of logic. There are no truly heinous examples, but if this sort of thing has stopped you from enjoying a graphic adventure in the past, consider this a warning. Point and click veterans will be familiar with the game's quirky logic, however, and they may even find themselves pleasantly surprised. Many of the later puzzles resonate with the story and its many themes, and some provide a twist on a classic conundrum, such as the ubiquitous (and maddening) sliding block puzzle.
There are some wonderful bonuses as well, including side quests, collectibles, and a persistent mini-game. The side quests mostly involve gathering collectibles (such as 32 dew drops that hang on the tips of leaves and hide in crannies throughout Mousewood), but there are a few others that unlock achievements. A card game called Quartets can be played with many of Mousewood's inhabitants. Simple, but amusing, Quartets features beautifully designed cards that tie into the game's story and themes. There are also a series of audio stories written by the main designer, Matt Kempke, for those who wish to know more about Mousewood. These elements add to an already substantial package, and this is one of the longer graphic adventures out there. Thorough players can expect nearly twenty hours of gameplay.
Like the puzzles, the story also takes some patience, particularly during the sluggish first half, when there's very little drama. Jerry is a well developed and likeable twelve-year-old, but he doesn't provide a very compelling protagonist for an adult player, and his journey doesn't become personal until late in the game. Even dialogue can be sluggish: Mousewoodians are a talkative bunch who frequently repeat entire segments of dialogue and have speech quirks — croaks, coughs, and rasps — that slow down already torpid conversations.
The second half begins to develop some of the game's larger themes, however, and disturbing oddities begin to pile up throughout Mousewood. The game takes a dark turn toward the end and builds to a wonderful, artful climax that makes it easy to forgive the game's earlier pacing issues. Although the entire game is astoundingly gorgeous, the ending features some of the more evocative scenes and music, although no track is better than the game's main theme: a fusion of melancholy violin and magical chimes. The voice acting is consistently solid as well, although there are moments of odd intonation and emphasis, but let's not forget this is a localization. The only blemishes on the enchanting aesthetics are load times and frame-rate drops, but these could vanish in the retail release.
Although their intentions may have been to reach a wider audience, Daedalic has created a children's game, and there's nothing wrong with that. Most children's games are far too innocent and insultingly dull — commercial characters giving teacherly instructions for inane tasks involving 1-2-3 and A-B-C — but The Night of the Rabbit teaches curiosity, the benefits of exploration, environmentalism, and the importance of stories: all virtuous lessons. Jerry also learns that magic is not just the stuff of fantasy, but an ever-present force that is extraordinary only in how common and pervasive it is. I say The Night of the Rabbit is a children's game, but then again, I know a few adults who need to learn the lessons it teaches.