Demo Driver 8: The Night of the Rabbit (#181)
I’ve never felt wholly comfortable mocking point-and-click adventure games. I’m fine sharing my thoughts on the genre as a whole, but the thing is that most of them come across as almost unbearably earnest. They sustain themselves almost wholly on presentation by writing and art. Critiquing the gameplay is an easy shot, and while it’s a worthwhile topic of discussion, it doesn’t change the fact that the game in question is essentially coming to you hat in hand while asking you to be a mildly interactive participant in what comes down to a storytelling session.
At the same time, this is a genre that has some pretty significant problems as a result, so I don’t feel that it’s fair to just leave off mentions of the nature of point-and-click adventure games. They’re not quite as much a non-game experience as the dreaded “Walk Around and Stare” genre, but you’re still stuck clicking about and hoping to have an impact. So you can imagine that I’ve got some conflicted feelings about The Night of the Rabbit right out of the gate.
If there were any more doubt in your mind, let me eliminate it: The Night of the Rabbit is a point-and-click adventure as pointy and clicky as any that have come out in the past decade or so. It falls victim to every single one of the genre’s sins, too. There are a number of puzzles that require a sequence of actions that make only a moderate amount of sense, including several points when alternative solutions are dismissed out of hand. There’s no real choice in play, just a matter of clicking through until you’ve done what the designers want you to do to solve any given puzzle. There will be no prizes won here on the basis of originality, even when one considers the rather restrictive nature of adventure games to begin with.
So it comes down to the story and presentation. Are those good enough to overcome weaknesses in terms of actual gameplay? I might not be the right person to tell you that, but I can say I enjoyed it.
The Night of the Rabbit follows Jerry Hazelnut, a young British boy living in a rural pocket with his mother and dreaming of being a great magician. One thing leads to another, as they often do, and Jerry is swiftly whisked away to a magical realm filled with talking animals who dress like people and so forth. You know, the rich vein of ultra-anthropomorphized critters that we’ve been steadily digging in from years of Redwall books and The Wind in the Willows and so on.
It does this without any sense of bite or critique, of course; the fact that these are all animals is simply an option to see the world in a small perspective, rather than providing some kind of commentary on how humans view or treat animals. Which is fine, it just tells you the sort of thing you’re in for right at the starting gate – this is an exercise in Boy Goes Out, Has Adventure, Returns Home for Supper. A straightforward exercise, and it’s going to be based in no small part of the collection of personalities you encounter.
Of course, there’s only so much time to get to know these characters in a rather short demo, but what I saw veered about from “not actually annoying” to “fairly amusing” with only a few detours here and there. Of particular note were the mole radio announcer, the 1950s roadside diner waitress with a penchant for awful cooking, and the father-and-son salesmen which consist of an overeager father and a nearly catatonic son who the father insists is a brilliant salesman, he’s just shy, really. You could argue quite convincingly that all of these were drawn from a fairly limited stock of odd side characters, but they managed to elicit a smile or two from me, and that was the ultimate purpose, wasn’t it?
The purpose certainly wasn’t the gameplay, that’s obvious. Aside from a minor wrinkle insofar as the game gives you a magical form of sight fairly early one which allows you to see objects to be clicked – and occasionally new things that were previously invisible – this is as straightforward as adventure gaming gets. Click on everything to pick it up, it’ll be useful later. When you encounter an obstacle, throw your inventory at the obstacle and click around until you get past it. Sometimes the solution make a fair amount of sense, but they’re equally often constrained because the designers don’t want you to try something.
Case in point: near the end of the demo you have to scare off a crow. How do you do that? Well, you take a giant shoelace, fashion it into a lasso, break an antenna, use the tip to turn the shoelace into a grappling hook, and then use the grappling hook to smack the crow with the antenna after distracting it with a muffin. The crow will very politely wait until you’ve done all of this, of course. Crows are well-known for their patience and understanding, especially when they were trying to carry away a piece of food beforehand.
Ultimately, this sort of brings us around to the core point again. This is a point-and-click adventure game, and while it has all of the charms of those, it also has all of the drawbacks. You play the game by clicking about until you decipher the logic of the game’s designers, not through any great skill in overcoming obstacles. I respect that designers have, increasingly, avoided the old-school sins of letting the game become unwinnable by design, but the net result is that the game turns into pass-fail by the world’s most patient instructor. Pass when you click in the right order, not before.
What The Night of the Rabbit does, and does well, is wrap all of that in a world that’s charmingly animated and well voiced. And it’s here that it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to really critique the game heavily. This is not a story meant to impart great truths; it’s there to entertain and only entertain. Is it right to criticize the game for being a fairly simple gaming experience when its true goal is and always has been a simple entertaining diversion?
I don’t think it really is. What little the game has to offer is offered with open arms and a warm smile. It offers charm, adventurousness, and whimsy without being underhanded or disingenuous. However many bits of frustration I might have had during the game’s click-and-pray sequences, I never had the urge to just uninstall the stupid thing and write it off. If you’re keen on adventure games, you could do a lot worse.