It all starts with a strange glade, a legendary tree, a figure dressed in black, and a traveler's case. As a tall rabbit in a tailcoat seeks his way through misty forest paths, a grim voiceover laments the imminent crisis. The ominous prologue then cuts to young Jeremiah Hazelnut's cozy bedroom as he's tucked in for the night by his mother. Neither notices the shadow outside his window, watching them surreptitiously. The morning after is bright and sunny, just the way our hero prefers his summer vacation, and he gets right on with making the most of it. On the agenda: a jaunt into the nearby woods, a place of local legend that sets his considerable imagination afire. It's Jerry's dream to be a famous magician, so when he finds a note with instructions for a magic trick, his interest is easily piqued. Gathering items for the trick is the first major quest of The Night of the Rabbit, and soon Jerry is the proud inheritor of a trunk of junk of the magician Zaroff. A bunny does pop out of the top hat here, but it's a visibly unsettling, red-eyed specimen named the Marquis De Hoto, who promises to teach Jerry the art of the arts if only he will step through the magical portal to Mousewood. Jerry is quick to don the hat and wield the wand, and agrees to follow the Marquis, on one condition – that he's back home in time for dinner.
Thus begins Jerry's expedition through the miniature town of Mousewood, home to little people like mice, squirrels, frogs, moles, hares, hedgehogs, and even a suslik. Daedalic Entertainment's latest über-attractive point-and-click opus unfurls on a stunning two-dimensional canvas as if a storybook has come alive, and features superbly-voiced, well-etched characters who strive valiantly to match the laidback charisma and irrepressible joie-de-vivre of its young protagonist as he traipses through a wonderland of anthropomorphic citizens and super-sized household objects. Practical and engaging inventory quests keep the action chugging along for the most part despite the less-than-efficient, and sometimes inconsistent, gameplay mechanisms, and the 8-10 hour journey is lightened by some crisp banter and a moody soundtrack led by a soulful main theme. But though the vibrant colours and dressed-up critters make the game look like child's play, it's not. Some objectives are obscure to the point of frustrating, set in the old-school logic that it's not an adventure if you aren't tearing your hair out, while the overarching themes – and even Jerry himself – are anything but childish.
The longer you play, unfortunately, the more the game becomes insecure in its own charm and tries to ramp up the stakes by progressively – and unnecessarily – complicating the story. Characters start spewing esoteric mumbo-jumbo as the plot bounces around disparate topics like the power of dreams and hope, environmental missteps, unfettered personal corruption, the traumatic social failures of its villains, and a Hazelnut family secret that even Jerry didn't know about. What starts as a straightforward crisis – someone is wreaking havoc on Mousewood, presumably to evict its denizens and take it over – devolves into sub-plots about pseudo-intellectual existential issues. It saps the exuberance of Jerry and his crew, pitches the player into bewilderment, and even waters down the gameplay by foisting token new locations with a couple of quests each. Then it all ends with a whimper: the climactic confrontation involves a shockingly puerile colour-matching minigame, and a visually dramatic but essentially blah cutscene explains why of it all. The last quarter of the game also appears hastily produced, with buggy animation, dialogues tripping over each other, and even some plain black screens with text.
Though the game eventually spirals out of control somewhat, that doesn't undo all the good established to that point. While never specified, the setting appears to be mid-twentieth century: Jerry's trousers are held up by suspenders, his mother wears a red polka-dotted bell skirt as she bakes pies and hangs laundry outside, and the rural landscape is being devoured by a fast-expanding modern city. Twelve-year-old Jerry possesses the innocence of boys his age of that time; he is smart and inquisitive, but respectful and obedient, with a strong sense of right and wrong. That's not to say that he's a goody-goody. The thought of going back to school in a couple of days wilts even his indomitable spirit, and mischief sparks often in his eyes, sometimes even accompanied by diabolical laughter. But at the core, he's a good boy, averse to lies and littering, and ever-ready to challenge any claims that he feels are unrealistic or unwarranted. In fact, his boyish mix of nonchalance and bravado makes him a great foil for the theatrical Marquis, and it's amusing to see smug adults stumble when confronted with Jerry's matter-of-fact observations.
Jerry enjoys the hyperactive virtual world in his head, a domain rife with fantastic events and infiltrated by the terrible gremlinwolf. His peers view his overactive imagination as weird, but he is undaunted by their criticism, and this very quality allows him to wholly embrace the nonhuman world of Mousewood. His acceptance of the simplistic desires and worries of the critters feels natural; there are no smart-assy jibes and judgments about any creature, which is truly refreshing for an adventure game hero. But Jerry's biggest asset is that he's aware of his own fears and limitations, be it venturing into the woods after dark or missing his mother after many arduous days in Mousewood. It's at these moments, when he pulls himself together and returns to his demanding tasks, that his spirit really shines through, and multiplies your investment in his success.
So when Jerry walks into the town built amidst the roots of an ancient tree, complete with a babbling brook and a café, and is shrunk to the size of the local critters, he keeps calm and carries on with his to-do list. His main objective is to prepare for a festival to be held at the end of his training by arranging for cakes and drinks, and sending out invitations to the townsfolk. Naturally, this is almost impossibly more complicated a quest than it sounds, because everyone is preoccupied with their own worries. Strange events have besieged the town: crows are abducting locals; it's snowing in some areas in mid-summer while other places are flooded; suspicious humanoids are lurking in corners muttering gibberish about change, and blue juice, the crowd favourite, is out of stock. Besides helping the locals, Jerry has to find four portals, beyond which lie the sources of the four spells he has to learn to complete his training.
Mousewood has its own town hall, radio station and infantry. Pint-sized mice guard its walls with peashooter cannons, and it has an extensive mail delivery system that later serves as a means for Jerry to move around town. It's also one of those rare places where dwarves are the tallest residents. Most of Mousewood is available to explore right from the start, with characters and quests spread all across it. For the most part, backtracking must be done screen-by-screen, which slows things down even with one-click exits. But the supposedly convenient postal service alternative involves many clicks and isn't very practical unless the destination is on the other side of town. Inactive areas are cordoned off by Jerry refusing to visit them without reason, or by mechanical barriers which must be removed by completing other tasks. The first half of the game takes place during the day; later quests are divided between day and night based on (sort of) rational considerations. Jerry can shift between the two by either reading an incredibly exciting book that makes him lose track of time, or by taking naps at pre-ordained locations.
Gameplay instructions are provided by a chatty radio host who introduces Jerry to the joys of morning calisthenics. Brightened by spontaneous verbal sparring between the duo, this optional tutorial segment tells us that there is only one button to rule it all. And indeed, the leaf-shaped cursor lets you either look at or use an object, or talk to someone with just a single click. Most screens have only a few usable hotspots, and despite the intricately detailed backgrounds, the interactive items are usually easy to pick out. Once activated, Jerry's trick coin can point out hotspots too; all you need to do is peek through it (or press the spacebar). Doing so also reveals the presence of invisible characters. Hotspots aren't always deactivated when exhausted, resulting in confusion and extra clicks, which can be doubly annoying as each click brings up the entire – usually lengthy – descriptive dialogue associated with that item.
Jerry's backpack serves as the inventory. Collected objects can be used with each other or onscreen items, and sometimes dismantled into useful parts. Right-clicking inventory objects has Jerry describe them, often with anecdotes of his experiences with similar items. The non-linear quests have him frequently toting about a dozen-plus odds and ends, which can frustrate during the vaguer tasks which demand matching everything with everything else in the hope that something will click. Objects cannot be combined out of order or if the need hasn't arisen. The advice button to 'phone' the Marquis for hints is useless, since the rabbit merely reminds Jerry of his ultimate objectives, totally ignoring his current quandary. A journal lists key milestones and Jerry's agenda, and does help a bit by giving (very cryptic) clues in the wording.
For each of the four levels of training he completes, Jerry earns a spell that grants him a supernatural skill, like the ability to decipher the language of rocks. They occupy special slots in the inventory, and are cast by clicking their icon on the target object. But for a game premised on magic, these spells seem grossly underutilised, being cast just once or twice each, and as such are relegated to being also-haves in the inventory to be considered when all else fails. They are even left out of the final conflict, which might have been redeemed by the actual use of magic.Continued on the next page...