Review for Edna & Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes
Adventure games by Daedalic Entertainment
Edna & Harvey: The Breakout was a huge success in Germany when it came out in 2008, but since the events of that game made a direct sequel unlikely, Daedalic opted for a spin-off adventure in Edna & Harvey: Harvey's New Eyes. Sequels notoriously have trouble measuring up to the first game, and to a degree that seems to be true for spin-offs as well. It's a pleasure to return to this offbeat world of intriguing neurotic characters and talking blue plush rabbits, but despite some improvements in the interface and a darkly dramatic story beneath its lighthearted comic veneer, the new game just isn't quite as fun to play as its predecessor.
Despite being the headline characters, Edna & Harvey aren't really the central figures here. This game is set in a convent school under the strict rule of Mother Superior, who hates children and has a hard time making them obey. Lilli is a young orphan at the school who is very well-behaved and always does as she is told, even when the tasks assigned to her don't always make sense and the other students constantly bully her. Her only friend is her roommate, Edna, although in her innocence Lilli doesn't always understand the feelings others have for her, leading her to believe that she's well liked by all.
When Edna learns that Dr. Marcel, an asylum psychiatrist she escaped from in The Breakout, has been employed in an ultimate attempt to get the children under control, she asks Lilli to eliminate all evidence that Edna was ever at the school so he won't know she's there. Combined with the other chores from Mother Superior, Lilli has a busy day ahead of her, exploring the grounds, talking to other students and personnel at the school, and finding and combining objects. In this case, "talking" is a running gag, as Lilli never actually says anything other than "Ah", "Uhm" or "But..." The others are eager to guess what she is trying to say, however, and finish her sentences for her before answering. Of course, they're often wrong in their assumptions, but in a funny way. At other times, a narrator fills in the gaps and explains, often sarcastically, what (he believes) Lilli is thinking.
For some reason, the other students around Lilli seem to be disappearing one by one, as whenever she returns to where she previously performed such tasks as removing termites from a tree or a balloon from a chandelier or finding a safe place to defuse a bomb, she just finds a strangely beautiful scene where gnomes are painting vaguely body-shaped blobs pink. Lilli is sure the girls have gone someplace else to play and doesn't recognize the blobs for what they really are, but it's immediately apparent to the player, leaving no doubt as to what role the gnomes will play throughout the game.
The first chapter is set in and around the school, exploring areas like a chapel, a classroom and the garden. Eventually Edna manages to escape and Lilli meets Dr. Marcel, who showcases his latest method of making children behave: a hypnotic blue plush rabbit, whom returning players will recognize as Harvey. Harvey hypnotises Lilli with his new eyes, and from that moment onwards she can no longer break any of a complex set of rules, such as: Do Not Play With Fire, Don't Contradict Adults, Don't Play With Sharp Objects, Don't Enter Dangerous Places and Don't Drink Alcohol. These rules are displayed in a kind of pop-up inventory at the bottom corner of the screen. Whenever you make Lilli try to do something from the list, she gets zapped with electricity and Harvey repeats to her the rule she just tried to break. Under certain circumstances, however, Lilli can retreat into her own mind and confront Harvey-demons there, finding ways to trick them into breaking their own rule or persuading them that there can be excellent reasons for exceptions, such as using fire to melt ice.
Fortunately, Lilli gets a little help in the form of a police officer, who convinces her she needs to leave the convent grounds. Easier said than done, but after breaking a few rules she ends up in a nearby village, with its police station, bar and cemetery. To find Edna's hiding place, Lilli needs to break even more rules. The third and final chapter takes place at a location best discovered for yourself, where you'll meet some more acquaintances from the earlier game. Both the somewhat silly story and the people feel a bit out of place in this chapter, but after about ten hours in total you'll reach one of three different endings depending on a decision you make in the last minute, all of them leaving you with many questions about Lilli's future.
One of the main complaints about The Breakout involved its clunky interface, which required multiple clicks to change between different actions you wanted to perform. Harvey's New Eyes is completely different in that regard, offering only one or two possible interactions per hotspot. A Harvey-shaped icon with two halves indicates whether you can look at, talk to or take a particular object, person or animal. This makes the game a lot less cumbersome to play, but it also takes away a lot of the first game's fun of combining everything with everything just to see what hilarious responses the developers had come up with. There's a few different comments for silly combinations, sure, but mostly you will just get a variation of 'that's not possible.' Conversations are still conducted by choosing available topic icons, a short description of the subject matter shown on mouse-over. Even with Lilli not speaking, the dialogue is mostly entertaining. Some speakers tend to be somewhat longwinded, but their lines can be fast-forwarded if you're impatient and want to get on with the game.
The streamlined interface contributes to making the game a whole lot less difficult. The puzzles, mostly inventory-based with a few standalone types like a Sudoku clone and a logic grid, are fun to do but not very challenging for the most part, with the number of interactive objects low and the clues a bit too obvious. There's a few minigames like a maze and an RPG-type board game where you choose which game piece battles which opponent, but these are very easy to solve as well, and you can even skip most of them if you want. The bigger problem is that the gameplay lacks a certain cohesion. Lilli has lots of short-term goals, and for long stretches of time you're simply solving these seemingly endless strings of quests for her, never feeling you are actually working towards anything or that the story is building up to something until it is too late and the game is almost over.
The demon-confronting scenes take the form of short intermissions in an alternate world that looks a lot like Lilli's but with a Western (American Indian) theme, so the police station is now a Sheriff's office and the cemetery an Indian burial ground. There's far too few of these scenes, unfortunately, as figuring out how to 'conquer' a demon is fun to do and will leave you wanting more. When Lilli succeeds in conquering one, its associated rule is unblocked and she can use that particular behaviour at will. She can only have one broken rule 'active' at once though, so each time you need to act in a certain way you'll need to click a corresponding button in your inventory of rules. It's always very clear which rule must be broken at which times though, which is a pity.
As you might expect if you played the original game, underneath the deceptively simple cartoony graphics and the sometimes lighthearted humour of both the dialogues and visual gags there are some dark, even morbid themes here. Not only is Lilli bullied by her fellow students and treated badly by the cruel Mother Superior, she also has a severe psychological trauma, suppresses bad experiences and ignores the results of her own actions. She doesn't just look away from bad things, she genuinely can't see the destructive consequences of her actions. The game will make you laugh at times, but also make you sad about how Lilli is treated and the effect this has on her. This mood is enhanced by a very suitable melancholy and haunting soundtrack. From the opening song “Needle and Stitch” (sung by Jan Müller-Michaelis, the lead developer) to the various melodies that accompany each new location, they're all nice fits atmospherically, never getting on your nerves despite being somewhat short and repeated often.
Whether it's the anime-loving students who want to recruit Lilli into their Shibuya Power movement, the wise old man literally hanging around in a storage room, or the shaman using txt speech for communication, Lilli meets lots of memorable characters. The narrator is brilliantly voiced in delivering such lines as telling internet reviewers to ignore an unrealistic puzzle solution. One or two of the children's voices are a bit too obviously spoken by adults trying to sound like kids, but for the most part they are performed just fine. The game lacks a funny sidekick like the original Harvey, unfortunately, as he's disappointingly low on lines this time and only appears to state a forbidden rule whenever Lilli breaks one.
Small, random annoyances included a handful of overlooked sentence translations from the original German, and a couple of times the correct solution to puzzles like a logic square weren't recognized, forcing me to use the skip button to progress (which allowed me to continue but didn't unlock the associated achievement, if you care about those). Loading an older saved game and trying again did solve that problem though, so it might have just been an odd glitch others won't encounter. In a few scenes, combining two items didn't result in the expected 'that's not possible' answer, instead showing a frozen Lilli for a second or two, leaving me wondering if I did something wrong.
These are just minor issues that don't overshadow the enjoyment, however, as overall Harvey's New Eyes is an entertaining game full of humour, wacky characters and fun if easy puzzles. It improves on the original Edna & Harvey interface-wise, but lacks much of the interactive experimentation and some of the magic between the two titular characters, along with the feeling of actually accomplishing anything while performing the tasks people give you. If you loved the near-infinite possibilities of the earlier game, you can't help but feel a little disappointed, but if you don't mind (or would actually prefer) a more streamlined experience, this is a more accessible game than its predecessor. And since no prior knowledge is necessary, for series newcomers Harvey's New Eyes is a fine introduction to this weird and wacky, if sometimes sadly troubled, world.