Review: Edna & Harvey: The Breakout

17 Jun 2020

Point-and-click adventure games can take on a wide array of puzzle-solving and storytelling journeys. While this style may appear simple at first, many find that the format allows for an immensely enjoyable experience. In Edna & Harvey: The Breakout, this style is used to integrate puzzle-solving features with comedic writing and mysterious storytelling. This game is developed and published by Daedalic Entertainment, and this new update releases the game for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch. For this purposes of this review, we’ll be looking at the version released on the Nintendo Switch. While the original was released back in 2008, this newer version of Edna & Harvey: The Breakout advertises improved graphics and controls with all of the same characters and storylines from before. But is this new release worth adding to your console of choice? Or something that should have stayed in the past?

Padded Walls and Gritted Teeth

The story of Edna & Harvey: The Breakout follows the main characters, a girl named Edna and her stuffed rabbit named Harvey, waking up in an asylum. Edna doesn’t have any memory as to how or why she is in this facility, but is trying to break out. With the help of Harvey, Edna finds ways to use objects and solve puzzles to make her way through the facility. Early on Edna learns that maybe her father isn’t the nicest of guys, but she can’t remember him and is determined to find out more. Motivated to escape and find out what happened with her father, Edna attempts her escape throughout the course of the game. 

As Edna attempts to escape this facility she slowly uncovers her memories and, eventually, details about her father. However the way in which this story is told isn’t always clear – and not in the good mysterious storytelling way. Rather, many times the details feel lost in the shuffle of unnecessary dialogue choices, or items you’re able to examine, but are ultimately unimportant to the story. This is not a case where the story is so well-written that it’s hard to analyze, it’s a case where it feels so haphazardly written that you’ll be questioning why you’re there half the time.

Admittedly, it was a little jarring to start the game and see a room with padded walls. But knowing that this was a self-proclaimed “cult classic,” I kept an open mind. There have been plenty of intelligently designed media pieces that handle mental health facilities and their patients well, sometimes even for comedic purposes. When playing Edna & Harvey: The Breakout, it soon becomes obvious that this is not one of those pieces. While Edna and her trusty rabbit are endearing at times, the cast of characters in this game are unfortunately portrayed.

For example, at a certain point in the story, you’ll be introduced to a wide range of fellow patients at the facility. While the game makes it clear that Edna does not believe she belongs there, it also makes it clear that you should believe these other patients actually do belong there. Once of the first characters in this section that made my red flags go up is named Droggeljug – a man guarding a mysterious looking tent and is essentially nonverbal aside from saying his name. Funny? Not quite. Okay so if that one’s not funny, how about the man in the laundry room that’s clearly so traumatized and anxiety-ridden that he cannot do anything more than scream when spoken to? Or how about Peter, a man at a bar with a mental health condition who Edna thinks has such a bad name, that she says he should kill himself. Yeah… so we’re still making games where the punchline to jokes involve suicide, in 2020.

It’s not just these awfully written characters that bothered me, although I will admit they were enough to make me want to throw my Switch against the wall. The entire story of this game just feels off. Point-and-click adventures are supposed to be a great opportunity to let your story shine but it felt like wading in mud for the pacing of this story most of the time. Sometimes I’d find myself getting too bored in certain sections and it would be hard to be motivated by the story alone to go on. Well, maybe that was just my own mental illnesses, which, according to this game, is enough to put me in the mental health facility. 

A game taking place in a mental health facility doesn’t automatically make it bad. But what Edna & Harvey: The Breakout does with this concept is the definition of cringe-worthy edgy humor. It feels exactly like a game that was made in 2008, if not earlier, without any updates to the story or writing. In fact, if I had played this game in 2008 I’d probably be rolling my eyes just as much as I am now in 2020. The point is, taking jabs at the mentally ill for a punchline isn’t cute and it’s not content for your game. There’s simply no justifying the way this game is written and I can’t, in good faith, sign off on something like this. 

Inaccessibility Everywhere

It’s no small task creating an enjoyable point-and-click experience on a console. There’s something about the genre, like the pointing and clicking, that makes it a bit better on a PC. However, it’s certainly a conversion that can, and has, been successfully executed many times before. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that Edna & Harvey: The Breakout has quite mastered this jump to console just yet for a variety of reasons. 

Gameplay for this game, on paper, should be just fine. It’s a little bit of a nightmare to look at the screen with so many circles that need to be selected and then have an action chosen, but it’s still manageable. The problem is this design just doesn’t feel good on the Switch, and I would assume on the other consoles, at all. It’s incredibly easy to miss the intended target, selecting incorrect actions is also far too easy, and the system controls just don’t feel like a good fit for what this game wants players to do. While overall I liked the ideas of the gameplay mechanics, which are your basic puzzle game structure, they felt poorly executed – and that’s before we even talk about the accessibility issues.

As I talk about in nearly all my reviews, I have a visual disability and in every game I play I will search for any and all accessibility-related settings or features I can find – whether I need them or not. In this case, Edna & Harvey: The Breakout was a nightmare for my disability and I assume others as well. Seeing the small targets, whether on the Switch screen or in docked mode, felt like a test at my optometrists. The precise movements that were required of me to reach those same targets was sometimes, because there are always so many on-screen, headache-inducing. And the text? Forget being able to read it if you have less than perfect vision. And no, there are no settings that alleviate these issues. Point-and-click adventures should be fairly accessible to a wider audience, but this game clearly didn’t try to be, and that’s frankly a disappointment.

Fun Visuals and Design

The areas of this game that I undoubtedly enjoyed were art and music. Seeing the original styling of Edna & Harvey: The Breakout in contrast to this new design is wonderful and shows how far it has come. The new art style is unique, interesting, and was enjoyable to look at. It reminded me of some late 90s cartoons while being its own style – a great setting for a fun point-and-click adventure.

The music was also interesting and matched the style of the art well. It added to that same cartoon feeling and matched the overall experience of the game. The sound design as a whole had that same effect to it and was something I felt was very well done. 

It doesn’t appear that art, music, or sound was the biggest focus in development for this game, but they were the highlights for me. These parts of Edna & Harvey: The Breakout should be praised for their creativity and what they provide to the experience of the game.

Things Better Left Unsaid

Remaking, remastering, or re-releasing a game can be a great way to expand on a team’s previous work, gain a new audience, and reach a new platform. When looking at this new release of Edna & Harvey: The Breakout, the question is what is there to gain here? Of course, the game looks a lot better than it did before, and it’s available on consoles which is certainly new. But aside from these technically new changes, I’m left questioning what the point is here. 

When your jokes consist of punching down on those with mental health challenges, you’ve run out of actual comedy. There’s a way to handle this content with tact and dignity, while still being funny, but it requires a level of self-awareness that this game is far from having. Edna & Harvey: The Breakout is a game that was stuck in the past when it was originally released, but its issues are highlighted ten-fold with its console release. Paired with the gameplay headaches and accessibility issues this just isn’t a game I can recommend playing. 

~ Final Score: 3/10 ~

Review copy provided by Daedalic Entertainment for Nintendo Switch. Screenshots captured by reviewer.