Edna Konrad is a young lady attached to only two things in life: her billowy hospital gown and her terrycloth pet rabbit Harvey. Our mind-melded heroes begin their adventure locked in a padded cell on the top floor of an asylum housed in a dilapidated Victorian mansion. Of course, Edna has been wrongfully detained for about the last ten years, but today is the day she and Harvey are breaking out. With your considerable assistance, of course. Because, as the box copy for the game loudy proclaims, Edna & Harvey: The Breakout is indeed an old-schoolish point-and-click adventure, of the mostly LucasArts kind. Heck, there's even a short list of action verbs pasted across the bottom of the screen and a pop-up inventory grid to bring a tear to the eye of Ron Gilbert.
The game designers also boast about the hand-drawn graphics and the lack of a third dimension in the game engine. The game's brightly colored graphical style is charming and the 2D cartoon sprites were plenty animated enough for me. This is a third-person pick-up-everything-and-talk-to-everyone game. You and Edna and Harvey are first going to bust out of that cell, then out of the building, then out of... Well, let's say this game is just busting out all over. Once the three of you make it out of the cell, you start to run into all sorts of colorful, wacky characters, either other inmates or asylum employees. Your fellow inmates can help you, but the asylum folks are mostly out to catch you. There's even one brief timed sequence early on in the game. Otherwise, most of the puzzling consists of picking items up, using them and combining them, as well as picking up useful info from any NPCs you run into. Which is to say, sometimes you can't do something until you've talked to the right person.
The classic LucasArts adventure made an artform of the loopily logical puzzle, as well as the hilarious "wrong" answer. Sometimes you laughed when you finally realized which item would make the chicken lay the egg, and sometimes you laughed when you tried to "talk" to the chicken, or tried to "iron" the chicken, or tried to "screwdriver" the chicken. In a LucasArts classic, every mistake is a golden opportunity for a great gag line. Which is what made (and still makes) playing them so much fun. Edna & Harvey makes a good stab at reproducing this type of zany atmosphere. The puzzles aren't as brilliant as the ones in The Day of the Tentacle and the gag lines are't as funny as the ones in The Curse of Monkey Island, but they're still entertaining.
The game mercifully has little to no pixel-hunting and the puzzles are a good blend of easy, moderate and a couple of head-scratchers. My only quibble is with one puzzle that I didn't quite think the cartoony graphics supported. On the other hand, the game designers did a good job of mixing up the types of puzzles and even tossed in a few newish wrinkles. (Don't want to give anything away, but at one point later in the game it helps to know how to drive a manual transmission.) There are also a few "tempomorph" scenes, wherein Edna and Harvey "return" to Edna's past to retrieve an important memory which will help her in the present. One of these allows you to play alternately as Edna and Harvey, but mostly these are Harvey's scenes not only to shine but to walk around. Back in the present, you see, Harvey does only two things, dangle at the end of Edna's arm, and comment. Edna can talk to Harvey whenever she likes and can ask his opinion of anything, but he'll also throw in a wisecrack or an observation whenever he feels like it.
The box copy is also right that E&H will probably take you a few days to a week to complete. They didn't even include a help system. Now, that's old-school. The version I played even came in an old-fashioned box, on a DVD, with a bonus poster and a bonus soundtrack CD. I confess I never popped the CD into my optical drive, but I did like the selections as I was playing. The mostly jazzy music is charmingly low key and jaunty, and best of all, unobtrusive.
Perhaps where the game shines most, and where it most closely approaches the LucasArts ideal, is in the voiceovers. Once again, this is a game made in Germany being ported to English. Often, this formula bodes ill. However, this is one time when they did a great job. Not only are the actors expert and lively, but the "idiom" is not warmed over German. Okay, a few German words made it through un-Anglicized, but mostly they nailed it.
This is especially heartwarming because Daedalic are also the folks, or volks, who recently gave us The Whispered World. And the main shortcoming of that game was the English voiceover. As a matter of fact, long before I came across the Whispered World plug planted in Edna & Harvey, I realized that the two games have more in common than their German developer. Both Edna and the young hero of Whispered World are misunderstood nobodies trying to break out of their restrictive worlds. Both Edna and Sadwick have cute sidekicks and both games play around with the notion of the real versus the imagined world.
Edna & Harvey doesn't do as good a job with its story as did The Whispered World. The latter has a surprising and satisfactory ending, while the former well, I'll just say that Edna & Harvey writes itself into a bind at the end. For most of the game, all is a lark. Edna and Harvey have a great time either destroying or badmouthing everything and everyone in a rather sunny manner that never seems to harm anyone or anything. Of course, all through the game you realize that this is a young lady who really believes her stuffed rabbit toy is a sentient being. As if that weren't troubling enough, the game takes a decidedly dark turn at one point, dealing with real insanity and real psychopathy. Frankly, it not only goes too far, but runs smack into a narrative dead end. The writers and designers try to have it both ways, both sunny and dark, and it trips them up. They would have been better off following the route of the classic stage play and movie about that other talking rabbit named Harvey leaving it up to our imaginations.
The break-out-of-the-asylum storyline is also not the freshest plot. The best Let Me Out of Here I'm Not Crazy adventure I know of is the classic Sanitarium. That is a truly eerie gaming experience and does a brilliant job turning the "subconscious" and psychosis into a rich, intriguing game world. Another worthwhile game of this ilk is the AGS game Mind's Eye, which has a story very similar to Edna & Harvey, only it has a male protagonist and a far more sober tone, and no pet rabbit. I would also toss in here the excellent game made of Harlan Ellison's great science fiction story "I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream." There's no actual asylum in that extended nightmare, because the entire universe has been turned into a prison and everyone left alive is insane.
Technically speaking, E&H's game engine also seems to be a throwback to the Nineties. The game did hang from time to time, usually when loading saved games. For that matter, there are only nine save slots, which is a bit too retro. Other than that I didn't experience any serious glitches on my modest laptop. Though I did wonder why the game's German demo has an option to play in a window which the English full game lacks. The specs, as you can see below, aren't terribly demanding, but the installed game took up five and a half gigs of space not the one gig listed.
Edna & Harvey makes a mostly successful try at recreating the classic LucasArts era cartoon adventure. Its few shortcomings don't keep it from being an entertaining romp. The author went to extraordinary lengths to write a unique response for most of the interactions in the game. At times this might drive you batty because it makes it harder to tell what is important and what isn't, but if you're the type who likes to roam around a game world trying everything you can think of, this game will richly reward such an excursion. I even stumbled across a couple of Easter eggs (I assume), something I almost never do. I don't want to give away those either, but suffice to say it's worth your while to swap for the really cool striped potholders. They won't help you a whit to advance in the game, but progress isn't everything, you know. Sometimes style counts as well.
All of which boils down to a letter grade for Edna & Harvey of B plus. Th-th-that's all, folks!
Final Grade: B+