The Night of the Rabbit Preview (PC)

Blimey, Daedalic really churn out pretty 2D adventure games as if they’re going out of style (which they never will of course). It seems only yesterday that we reviewed Deponia and we’ve already had two further games in the series, Edna & Harvey and The Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav since then. Now we’ve got the upcoming The Night of the Rabbit, which we’ve had a chance to play and could very well trounce them all through sheer charm.

Somewhere between Comedy and Dramatic adventure games lies the Charming adventure, which the likes of Amanita Design (Machinarium, Botanicula) excel at. Occasionally funny with the odd dramatic moment thrown in, but mostly they’re just sweet. Daedalic have had a go at this type of adventure before with The Whispered World, but screwed it up with agonising English voice acting and obtuse puzzle design (and considering it’s an adventure game that’s really saying something). Now they’re having another go at it with The Night of the Rabbit and by golly it looks as if they could get it right this time, more so from what I’ve played (roughly a sixth of the game) it could be the best they’ve ever made.

Are those magical wings hanging off Jerry’s back?

After the rather baffling beginning involving a tree, a mute 6-foot tall rabbit dressed like a French aristocrat, a nonsensical voiceover and a guy who looks like a cross between Lemonhead from Monkey Island and Skull Kid from Majora’s Mask the game starts proper. We’re then introduced to Jeremiah Hazelnut, a normal kid seeking adventure in the woods around a big city. After recovering some delicious blackberries for his mother a weird Harry Potter-esque flying envelope makes its way into Jerry’s possession which will set him out on a crash course to become a Magician’s Apprentice to the aforementioned giant rabbit, before journeying to another world and the town of Mousewood… but he has to make sure he’s not late for dinner.

The first thing you’ll notice about Night of the Rabbit is that it’s a very pretty game. Daedalic do have a knack for creating lovely 2D adventures in the “living painting” style of The Curse of Monkey Island, but it’s pointless having great artists if the ideas being painted are drab - Deponia for instance was one tedious junk-heap after another, very well drawn but still boring. Night of the Rabbit though allows their artists to flex their creative muscles, and from a lovely creepy wood to the magical Mousewood Daedalic’s team never disappoint. Once the game moves away from the human world it gets ever more creative, but still manages to maintain a grounded Borrowers-like mouse-eye-view angle of a forest on the edge of civilisation.

After your rabbit guide, the Marquis de Hoto, takes you through a magical Portal Tree Jerry and the Marquis have shrunk to mouse size. For Mousewood is populated by all manner of woodland creatures and being the same size as them makes sense. I encountered talkative mice, squirrels, moles, rabbits, hedgehogs owls, and, er, one particularly annoying leprechaun. And they’re all wonderful, apart from the vicious Crows menacing the town that keep the rodent citizens in mortal terror. Seriously, all the characters are great fun to talk to, with just the right level of eccentricity not to get annoying (well okay, apart from that leprechaun). If the main game can flesh them out some more and carry on what I’ve seen it’ll be a joy to play.

Mousewood at night.

I was a little cross at the start when I thought there wasn’t a hint system or an interactive object highlighter, which are standard now for modern adventure games, but coolly Daedalic actually introduce both gradually as part of the plot. The highlighter is a ‘Magic Coin’ Jerry looks through and can be used to see hidden things too, and the hint system is a spell that connects Jerry to the Maquis. Granted from what I played the hints were about as useful as a sharpened Monkey Island 2 guide through the neck, but hopefully they’ll be more useful in the final game. There were also traditional bad adventure moments when I basically had the right solution but the game gave me no clue I was on the right track, and also not making some locations obvious enough. I can live with these though if the rest of the game is great.

I only got a small taste of the puzzles but on the whole they seemed pleasingly straightforward. Despite a really annoying chase across Mousewood involving a leprechaun and what appeared to be the Super Hedgehog Bros (I didn’t get at the time that this joke is obviously a cross between Nintendo and Sega’s mascots and I applaud it) I got on with the puzzles just fine. Very often if I was stuck the answer came down to “well, what have you missed?”, like some acorns hanging in a tree, a rake resting on a fence, or an entire path at the town gate. Nevertheless I felt my brain was happily taxed just enough not to get annoyed. Let’s just hope the hint system is more helpful in the final game though.

Even I’ve got no damn clue what’s going on here.

A quick note before I finish up on Daedalic’s usual Achilles heel, the English voiceovers. I’ve only seen a few characters, but for the first time in one of their games I can honestly say that they’re not that bad. While main character Jerry is a little bit stilted he at least sounds like a young boy (unlike Sadwick in The Whispered World) off on an exciting adventure, the Marquis de Hoto sounds suitably flamboyant, the mice all delightfully squeaky, and the Top Gear-style tutorial radio host (who turns out to be a mole) is alone funnier than 98% of Deponia. The only potential downer is the menacing woodsprite who follows Jerry and the Marquis, and who manages to have the most boring inoffensive voice imaginable. As he was the first speaking character to appear it was a bad first impression, fortunately it got much better after this point.

The most delightful character though spoke only in chirps, young mischievous girl owl Ursula, and it’s telling of the quality of Night of the Rabbit’s characters at this early stage that while I wouldn’t lift a finger to save anyone from Deponia I couldn’t leave the screen after Ursula faced mortal peril until she was saved. The characters are sweet and lovable, the story and world already intriguing (the Marquis clearly has something to hide that I want to find out), and the puzzles currently seem to be on the right track. Unless it all falls apart later I think Daedalic could finally have an adventure that even grumpy old sods like myself will enjoy. And that’s no mean feat. The Night of the Rabbit will be released if all goes to plan on 29th May 2013 on PC only.

Most Anticipated Feature: Just what is the deal with the woodsprite, the Marquis de Hoto, and that weird dragon that appeared for half a second in the tutorial?