Friday, 2 April 2021

Switch Review - My Brother Rabbit

Pointing and clicking its way through a world of imagination, ‘My Brother Rabbit’ is so much more than a simple hidden object game.

Developed by Artifex Mundi
Published by Forever Entertainment
Released in 2019
 

‘Nights into Dreams’, ‘Little Big Planet’, ‘Little Nemo: The Dream Master‘, ‘Alundra’, ‘Kingdom Hearts Dream Drop Distance’ and even ‘Dreams’. While there are many video games that are set within a dreamscape, it’s surprising more titles haven’t used this backdrop. Dreams are said to be the time when imagination can play, were the normal rules of physics and reality need not apply. Anything is possible within a dream and as such anything would also be possible in a game that featured them.

 


‘My Brother Rabbit’ is a surrealistic title that would make Salvador Dali proud. A game of wild fantasy, where Teddy Bears perform medical scans, boats are made from bathtubs and iguanas are TV screens. Trees have faces, bugs have light bulb bodies, there are robot moose, and eyes watch you everywhere – literal eyeballs on stalks. The reason for this madness is simple; you’re observing a child’s dream. “We always try to create interesting worlds full of beautiful art” says the developer. ”Now we have decided to take a step further, so, we created a game that is fully based on children's imagination“. The charming ‘My Brother Rabbit’ explores the love between a brother and an ill sister, represented in the game by as a green plant like creature and the titular brother rabbit. An opening cinematic sets up a story that will prove to be troubling for a parent who has a child that suffers medical problems.

A little girl is struck by a mysterious illness and is rushed to hospital. Alongside her parents, her older brother accompanies her and he takes it upon himself to emotionally support his much loved sibling. To do this the children share imaginative stories about their cuddly toys; that go on a journey that very much reflects the ordeals the children themselves are going through. “Though their situation is dark, the children use their creativity as a torch to light their way out” says the developers. “Kids have the incredible ability to explain what they don’t understand. This isn’t a way to ignore what they fear, but to instead both cope and understand the strange ways of an ever-changing world”. Evidently the game’s designers worked with their own children to better understand the way they perceive our reality.  It’s hard to think of a much more heart-warming set up. The game is divided into four distinct sections, which are separated by brief story interludes. There are bumps in the road for the siblings, but ultimately the game, while emotionally charged, is a tale of support and love. “We feel that players will form a bond with the children in ‘My Brother Rabbit’ because of their enduring spirit,” explains Artifex Mundi CEO Tomasz Grudziński. “Though this story begins with a tragedy, these children always hope for a brighter future.”

 

‘My Brother Rabbit’, is accurately described as a hidden object game fused with a point-and-click. Traditionally, in the latter genre, you have to source abstract items which can be combined in an inventory to solve puzzles. In ‘My Brother Rabbit’ you will still be hunting through locations to find things, but rather than finding a combination of different things you have to find many of one thing.

 

For example, imagine you've discovered a heavy grate that needs to be opened.  Guybrush Threepwood may have achieved this in a 'Monkey Island' game, by going to the docks to get a length of rope. Then he'd return to tie this rope to the grate. Next he would have to trade a fish (that he'd previously got from a lunch platter at a festival) with a librarian to get her cat.  Then he'd return to the grate and attach the cat to the rope and then place it on a ledge. Now he would have to combine some cheese with some sedatives that he had in his inventory. He would then give this to a mouse that is also in his pocket, (since he earlier procured it in a sewer). Finally, he can put the unconscious mouse in an onscreen sling-shot to fling the rodent across the screen in front of the tethered cat. The result would be the cat chases the mouse, and in so doing pulls the rope which lifts the grate.

 


In ‘My Brother Rabbit’, you'll solve the same conundrum by simply searching through accessible locations for ten butterflies that can then be placed on the grate to lift it.

 

You will have multiple treasure hunts on the go at once, and the state of each is shown on top right of the screen. Like the best hidden object games, sometimes the things you need will be obvious, but that isn't always the case. Frequently they are obscured by scenery or hidden behind things that need to be moved. Preconceived perceptions about scale are also played upon; so often you'll be hunting for what you think will be a giant thing only to realise it is actually a tiny thing. Similarly camouflage is also your enemy, and the game seems to take great delight in placing needed curios amongst identically coloured randomness. ‘My Brother Rabbit’ strikes the perfect balance between obvious and infuriating.  Frequently you'll kick yourself for staring at something and failing to realise it is what you've been hunting for all along.  You'd be wrong to think there aren't any point-and-click style puzzles at all in ‘My Brother Rabbit’ though. Yes, the majority of objects you'll need for your collect-a-thon will be hiding in plain sight. However, some are trickier to source. To get these you'll use objects in a location to activate other things in the same location. Sometimes this will involve literal instructions, like assembling flat pack furniture. You’ll see an onscreen schematic and have to find objects that match silhouettes. Often though the tasks are far less prescribed and more perplexing. On one occasion I needed a balloon that was hidden beneath a bell jar. To get it I had to take a basket that sat on a table and hook it onto a rope pulley attached to the bell jar. Then I had to use a hammer to break a wall to get rocks to put in the basket, with the counter weight lifting the bell jar allowing access to the balloon. At times like this ‘My Brother Rabbit’ will feel very reminiscent of point-and-click games like 'Machinarium', especially when it involves swapping arms on a robot.

 


There is a certain amount of pixel poking as you hunt for the obscure curios. Like many point-and-click games, when you find yourself stumped there is a temptation in ‘My Brother Rabbit’ to just systematically move the cursor over each location clicking continually just in case you accidentally stumble on what you need. But helpfully you'll be given a clue as to which items are on which screen. If their tick box is blue you'll know that specific item is located in your present location, even though you may not have immediate access to it. If they're all greyed out you'll know there's nothing to see here, and progress can only be made hunting through other environments. There is no specific hint system though. It doesn't matter how long you stare at a screen convincing yourself that the game is broken, ‘My Brother Rabbit’ will never give away its secrets. There is never a big on screen arrow that says “what you’re looking for is here” To do so would mean depriving you of the satisfaction of discovery; which is so obviously the appeal of hidden object games. Indeed, the game will be familiar to anyone who has played the other Artifex Mundi hidden object games you can also buy on the eShop. 'Uncharted Tides: Port Royal', "Noir Chronicles: City of Crime', 'Persian Nights: Sands of Wonders', 'Path of Sin: Greed', 'Modern Tales: Age of Invention' all offer very similar gameplay to this, although most have a far darker tone and story.

Like these titles ‘My Brother Rabbit’ also includes thirty mini games. These feel slightly reminiscent of a 'Professor Layton' game, although that may be because many of them are accompanied by a soundtrack that includes a children's music box. Typically unlocked after discovering a set number of relevant objects, they vary in difficulty. Some are sliding puzzles or lights out games. Others involve hooking up cogs with ropes, or 'Pipe Mania' style conundrums. Scattered amongst these are also logic puzzles like moving match sticks to make different arrangements and clock riddles. None are so taxing you'll be unable to progress but they do offer a pleasant distraction from the perpetual search for random trinkets.

 

Navigation around the world is simple enough. If you hover over a portal to a new location your cursor changes to an arrow and if you hold the action button down you’ll zip to a new place. Alternately within the environments, using the direction buttons will also guide you between their various rooms. It would have been nice to see your rabbit protagonist move around the screen more. For most the adventure he remains static in one location.  You don't really feel like you're playing the rabbit brother. Instead you feel like an off screen omniscient presence that's lending a helping hand.

 


Given its roots in the point-and-click genre, ‘My Brother Rabbit’ needs a cursor you can point and click with. The left analogue stick moves it quickly around the screen with the right reserved for more precise smaller movements. It's functional but touch screen controls when the Switch is in hand held mode would have been much more preferable. It’s a curious omission, especially since so many of the mini games involve sliding. It is a short game, weighing in at about 5 hours.  Naturally, the majority of that playtime is spent randomly clicking to see which bits of the beautiful environments you can interact with. While that may sound negative, there’s a simple joy to be had in just experimenting. The abstract surreal ways seemingly irrelevant things react to an interaction is both humours and satisfying. No, the majority aren't going to help you solve a puzzle. But there's something really quite lovely about clicking on a pair of wellie boots just to make them shuffle about briefly or prodding a flower just to see it dance to the music. The soundtrack is actually wonderful. “Music and sound are really important because there [is] absolutely no dialogue” says Artifex Mundi. “Composed by Arkadiusz Reikowski featuring vocals by Emi Evans, whom you probably know from scores like ‘NieR: Automata’ and ‘Dark Souls’ Trilogy. “When I read the story about ‘My Brother Rabbit’ it really sort of connected with me, lots of my childhood I spent making up these imaginary games” says Evans. Using a made up language for lyrics, the soundtrack has an otherworldly ethereal feel, mixed with a childlike innocent conveyed by the use of glockenspiel and music boxes. ”It was just so haunting, and simple but still just gorgeous as well” says Evans. “We really put our hearts into this music”.  If anything there simply isn’t enough of it though. It repeats far too quickly; somewhat obvious when you note that the official soundtrack is twenty minutes long and the game is 15 times longer.

 


The look of the game, while inconsistent is always striking. The bulk of the game seems to echo the surrealism of ‘Broken Age' and 'Discworld'. It’s a rich and imaginative world, as you explore the pages of a children’s story book filled with colour. The cut scenes though are muted, and sketchy. White pages fill with line drawings, with vague and undefined backgrounds. A few seconds conveys so much, and their lack of vibrancy feels like they need to be remembered vaguely; like an unhappy memory you wish to forget. Given that these sections depict hospitals and suffering of the real world this is surprisingly appropriate.  “While life appears dreary and cruel, the fantastic and surreal world conjured up by the children offers a wonderful reprieve” explains Artifex Mundi.

 


‘My Brother Rabbit’ is a hidden object adventure for those who thought this style of games were just casual mobile phone fodder. It shares an emotional story with panache and sensitivity. Its world of imagination is a pleasure to explore with enough logic puzzles and mini game distractions to keep the experience fresh; avoiding monotony that so often blights games like this. While undeniably simple, ‘My Brother Rabbit’ is full of charming touches and will leave you with a warmed heart. Playing this game is a dream, in more ways than one.


If you enjoyed this maybe consider a book I co wrote all about point-and-click games. "The Art of Point and Click Adventure Games" can be bought here:

A copy of this game was provide for free to review. The publisher and developer have not seen or had any influence on the content of this article prior to it being posted.


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