Edna & Harvey started as a university project in Germany. Subtitled The Breakout, it was a well-received game in its homeland but received mixed reviews in other countries due to a less-than-stellar translation job. It did well enough that the developers decided to make a sequel, and while it is the same genre as its predecessor, Edna & Harvey: Harvey's New Eyes can be best described as deceptive.
Despite the title, the story doesn't really follow Edna much. Instead, you play the role of Edna's friend, Lilli. She's a charming girl who wants to do the right thing but is berated and bullied by the convent employees — with the exception of Edna. When the duo learns that Mother Superior has invited a renowned child psychologist to mold them into more obedient and docile children, Edna realizes that the doctor is seeking revenge. With your only friend in serious trouble, you must help her avoid the doctor and the overbearing nun.
At first, the plot and situations give the impression that this is an adventure game for kids, with a little bit of humor thrown in for adults. A few puzzles in, and you quickly realize that this is anything but a kids' game. It's evident when solving the first puzzle results in the death of a student, something made more shocking by the corpse and accident being quickly painted over by a helpful little gnome that no one else can see. That incident plunges the game into brutally macabre territory, as more people berate Lilli and more people meet their untimely demises, usually through convenient accidents. Combined with some surreal shifts in locale and a narrator who keeps up the appearance of a children's tale, and you have a plot that can be enjoyed by those who are entertained by schadenfreude and the bizarre.
The story is memorable because of its rare macabre humor, not the characters. There's a small cast of characters, but so many of them are one-dimensional, filling in the tropes of anime-obsessed girl, bully, conspiracy-driven man, etc. Though the villains are better fleshed out, you don't see them much, so the player doesn't get a chance to indulge in their motivations or care much about them. The same goes for the titular characters, Edna and Harvey, though Harvey's numerous manifestations make him the exception. Lilli is the only other interesting character, mostly because players can empathize with the silent, constantly interrupted protagonist.
The other element that the game doesn't pull off well is the humor. A good chunk of the comedy comes from the game's reaction to overly violent situations, but once you get past that, the one-note joke starts to wear thin. The writing is very hit-or-miss in terms of the punch lines eliciting laughs, and when it works, you'll chuckle instead of collapse in laughter like you would with some early LucasArts titles. A few situations do provoke laughter, particularly the interactions with Harvey, but it could have been better.
The game is a point-and-click adventure that follows many genre standards. For the most part, each chapter sticks you in environments separated by single screens instead of one continuous sequence. You'll interact with quite a few objects, often combining them or using them to solve a puzzle that would only make sense in this twisted world. Dialogue also works in the same way, opening up pathways and access to objects that would have been otherwise inaccessible. Then there are the minipuzzles that often take the form of familiar tasks, logic equations, and Sudoku-like problems, providing a nice break from the constant point-and-click mechanics.
Where Harvey's New Eyes tries to differ from its contemporaries is in the use of emotional blockers. Early in the game, you are captured and hypnotized into being an obedient child. The problem is that you're restricted in your actions, preventing you from saving Edna from her fate. To break free from those blockers, you have to rehypnotize yourself with the help of Harvey, the stuffed bunny that's now become a tool for the mad doctor. The result of removing these emotional and behavioral blockers is nothing more than an extra step in solving a puzzle, but the quest expands the game in a few ways. In addition to lengthening the experience, it also opens up more deceptively twisted areas to explore, making the adventure more varied. Internet-addicted shamans, giant nuns, and dogs playing poker are some of the odd things you'll see here, but Harvey's different manifestations are what make these segments memorable. Seeing the bunny take the form of a genie, snowman and wendigo is amusing due to the dialogue and results of each puzzle, making you wish for more of these encounters.
On some levels, the game succeeds due to its simplicity. You can look at, grab or use most objects, and you can combine objects. Dialogue trees aren't very deep, and aside from asking about certain people or objects, you won't have to worry about which phrases eliciting which types of responses. Hitting the space bar lets you know immediately where the on-screen hotspots are, so mindless clicking is instantly avoided. Even the minipuzzles come with a handy "solve" button that instantly completes the puzzle at the cost of earning the related achievement. For those who are intimidated by the seemingly complicated nature of other adventure games, this approach makes the title inviting.
On the other hand, this simplicity hurts parts of the game. With the exception of a few puzzles, there isn't much that taxes genre veterans, so they'll burn through this game with little effort. The lack of multiple choices also means that the opportunities for humorous dialogue and outcomes are lessened considerably, with more repeated jokes than expected. The game tries to make up for this, and while the length of the adventure is good, it feels padded due to some sequences and dialogue running longer than expected.
Graphically, the game can be described as both charming and rudimentary. Every element is bathed in bright colors, almost like a kids' book, with the backgrounds getting a good amount of detail in its simplistic drawings. The characters also receive this simple style, and it helps you buy into the myth that this is meant for the younger gaming set. Where the graphics begin to fall apart is in the animation, which mimics older adventure games a tad too closely for this generation. Everything, from walking to the act of combining objects, has approximately three frames of animation, and any speaking cycles through the same three frames, even if there's silence. Some may find this to be a cute nod to the limitations of adventure games during the DOS/Windows 95 era, but the size of the game makes you wonder why more work wasn't put into making the title animate better than a rudimentary Flash project.
Likewise, the same descriptors can be applied to the sound. The music is comprised of a varied score that goes from whimsical to sinister at the drop of a hat, touching upon several different genres and musical styles in the process. The voice work is solid, and despite most of the characters being one-dimensional, the casting gives most of them some personality that would have been lost if this were a purely text-driven title. Some of the performances miss the mark, as some of the kids sound more grown-up than expected, and other performances, like that of the lunch lady, feel exaggerated. The music is what people will really harp on, as it runs at a very low default volume and runs on a continuous loop. The quality ensures that it isn't grating, but it does start to annoy once you notice it.
Edna & Harvey: Harvey's New Eyes isn't for everyone. The humor won't tickle everyone's funny bones, and the presentation of both the audio and graphical standpoints leaves something to be desired — despite some of the good things it does. The old-school adventure approach is still enticing, and the focus on simplicity over complicated mechanics appeals to those who are jumping into the genre or need a warm-up after an absence. While not a masterpiece by any means, Harvey's New Eyes is good enough to recommend for those who fit in the aforementioned categories, so long as they can get it fairly cheaply.
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