Playing Edna and Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes it’s clear how how much the point and click adventure has evolved in the last twenty years. From it’s heyday in the 16 bit era when games like Day of the Tentacle and The Secret of Monkey Island were the subject of whispered playground conversation, the genre has since grown to embrace Hollywood production values and deeper, more adult storytelling. Case in point, just look at what Telltale Games has done with The Walking Dead. So in many ways it’s difficult to come back to a more traditional style adventure like Edna and Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes which all but ignores two decades worth of innovation in game design.
That’s not to say there isn’t a place for old-school retro-style gaming, far from it. However, to do it well requires a real understanding of what made those old games work in the first place. Perhaps more than any other gaming genre, the hallmark of a good point and click adventure is how well it blends solid game design with first-rate storytelling. After all, there’s a reason why games like The Secret of Monkey Island are still so well-regarded more than twenty years after their original release. Edna and Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes isn’t a bad adventure game, but it’s not a particularly memorable one either; and while it does a few things right, the experience is hampered somewhat by dodgy voice acting, a muddled script and some rather frustrating design choices.
The game centres around the character of Lilli, a schoolgirl at a convent school run by a tyrannical mother superior who makes Lilli’s life a misery. If that weren’t bad enough, besides her best friend Edna, none of the other children at the school like Lilli. So when Edna disappears in mysterious circumstances, Lilli is desperate to find out what happened to her. As the game’s protagonist, it’s hard to like Lilli. For much of the game she has very little to say, so exposition duty falls to a voiceover narrator. Despite a few funny quips early on, the narrator quickly goes from being mildly amusing to downright irritating. More or less everything you click on in the game triggers several lines of dialogue, delivered in the sort of cloying, patronising tone you might get on a kids’ TV show for the under fives.
With a good enough script this wouldn’t be an issue, however many of the situations encountered in the game are so bizarre and ‘out there’ that it’s hard to care about the story or to engage with the game’s “quirky” (more on that later) sense of humour. What’s more, the game’s dialogue in general is rather wooden and tends towards excessive wordiness. As a result, talking to any character can quickly become an exhausting experience requiring the player to wade through reams of dialogue. That said, the game did offer a few funny lines that are likely to make players smile, however there were few laugh out loud moments to be had during the game’s five to six hour running time. Similarly, it doesn’t help that none of the characters you meet on the way are all that memorable. In fact, the only ones that really stood out were the game’s antagonists - a tyrannical nun who hates children and a psychotic mad scientist, hardly the most original of creations.
However, the biggest issue with the story is that it’s not very clear who the game is aimed at. Usually with a game you can get a sense of what it’s going to be like from looking at the PEGI rating and playing through the first few minutes. Hence you can be fairly sure that you won’t want your six year old playing Max Payne 3. With Edna and Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes, what seems to start out as a game aimed at the youth market takes a dark turn about halfway through, with the latter part of the game touching on such child-friendly subject matter as mental illness. Just to be clear, there’s nothing in the game that’s any worse than what you might have read in a Roald Dahl novel, but it’s certainly arguable whether humour centred around characters with mental health problems is really suitable for a game that (on the surface at least) appears to be aimed at kids.
As a throwback to early 90’s game design Edna and Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes suffers somewhat from some of the creakiness typical of those early adventure games. First off, the game eschews the modern trend in adventure games of tying the narrative to the game environment, allowing the player to focus their efforts on solving a single puzzle that’s location-specific. Instead, you’re dumped into a large play area and are forced to solve several, completely different puzzles concurrently. The result is that despite knowing what you need to do to progress the game, it’s easy to get stuck until you work out the precise order you need to do things in. Luckily, the game’s puzzles are for the most part logical and present a good challenge, even if some of the solutions follow some pretty wonky logic (like using a balloon wrench to undo a chandelier). For the most part though it works.
The game’s interface is clean and simple, being essentially a refined version of Lucasarts’ SCUMM system. Left-click moves Lilli around the environment while right-clicking allows you to examine objects (albeit via triggering the annoying narrator). Moving the cursor to the bottom of the screen opens the inventory allowing you to interact with any objects you’ve picked up. Things start to go somewhat awry in the game’s later stages with a couple of rather odd design choices which take some of the polish off the game’s otherwise slick presentation.
The first occurs in the game’s second and third chapters where you have to explore Lilli’s subconscious to overcome inner demons that prevent her from performing certain behaviours. For some reason, as you overcome Lilli’s behavioural blocks, rather than automatically building these into the narrative, the game forces you to navigate a sub-menu each time you want Lilli to do things like play with fire, contradict adults or (again, is this for kids?) consume alcohol. Perhaps this game mechanic would make sense in an open-world RPG where the player is forced to adapt their play style for certain situations, but it makes no sense in a linear point and click adventure. In fact, the only purpose the feature seems to serve in this game is to grate on the nerves, punishing the player with a ‘nyah-nyah’ dialogue scene each time they forget to enable the right behaviour. It’s a feature that clearly wasn’t well thought through and should have been dropped during quality testing.
Secondly, the game’s endgame departs from the point and click formula entirely, presenting the player with a strange RTS sub-game that you have to beat in order to complete the game. There’s nothing technically wrong with this, but it comes so far out of left-field that it really doesn’t gel with the rest of the game.
The game’s 2D cartoon art style is colourful and eye-catching, even if some of the hand-drawn environments and characters lack variety. Similarly, the game’s soundtrack, while well-produced (including a catchy Jack Johnson-esque theme song during the opening credits which will have players humming along) amounts to a single theme which the game never really departs from. It would have been good if the score varied according to the game’s environment, something you usually expect to see in games of this type. As it is, it’s perfectly OK, but players may find it monotonous in the game’s later stages.
As a conventional point and click adventure, Edna and Harvey: Harvey’s New Eyes isn’t a bad game – it’s just a bit middle of the road. Everything works more or less as you’d expect, but the game doesn’t tell a very interesting story and while the game’s sense of humour is certainly eccentric it may not be funny enough to make you want to go on playing. That said, if you buy into the game’s charm and you’re willing to overlook a few shonky design features (and some arguably questionable content), you probably will enjoy it. However, unlike the games it seeks to emulate, it’s probably not one you’ll find yourself talking about in twenty years time.
A traditional point and click adventure that’s not quite what it seems.