Let it never be stated that the indie development world shies away from a little quirk. Far from it. Ok, imagine you’re a AAA-game publisher with a penchant for guns, explosions, and teenagers screaming at each other over voice chat. Now listen to this pitch:
In Dropsy, you’re going to play a down-on-his-luck circus clown whose tent has recently burnt to the ground, killing his mother in the process and causing people to forget about his big-top glory days. Armed with over-sized suspenders, your tender arms which will be used to hug folks that you meet in your travels, and whatever inventory isn’t nailed down, you will embark on a quest to restore your name and discover yourself. There will be no shooting. There will be no quick time events. Oh, but there WILL be regular trippy nightmare visuals whenever Dropsy goes to sleep and a distinct lack of dialogue. But we have plenty of icons in word bubbles to get the point across, so don’t fret. Oh! And it’s open world, so that’s at least one bullet point, right?
If you are any sort of quality actor and were able to get into the AAA-publishing mindset, your own bile frothed up from your esophagus and into your mouth, and you proceeded to shriek while choking on the vile muck as you collapsed onto the floor. Good work! Your Emmy is in the mail.
Dropsy is part of that now-rare breed of point-and-click adventure games of yore. There is no death and there is no failure. Only you, the road and your mouse in hand as you wander around Dropsy’s cartoonish and sometimes surreal world. Along the way you’ll pick up some animal friends that will help you to accomplish your goals. They will dig, crawl through small tunnels, and fly for you once you have proven your worth and goodness to them. And you will hug. You will hug everyone. You will hug trees and inanimate objects. You will wrap your soft, fleshy stumps around anything resembling a human and give it a good squeeze. The hug is all. The hug is your god. Praise be to The Hug.
Oftentimes a person will not accept a hug upon meeting them. In true adventure game fashion, you must give them something or complete some task before being allowed to enter their personal bubble. But the elation upon breaching that wall is palpable, especially if you’ve been stuck on a particular puzzle for a bit. It’s really silly honestly, but acquiring each hug just cleans you right out, and gives you reason to keep moving on to the next one. After finishing the game, I’m actually not certain if the hug is a gameplay element needed to move on. Dropsy does add a poorly-drawn picture of each huggee to the wall in his room, but beyond the points in the game where a scripted event causes you to hug someone, I don’t think it was an actual requirement. It’s a fun task though, and definitely shouldn’t be skipped. The game’s dog character also has a subquest to whizz on many of the trees and fire hydrants, which are also tracked in the dog’s house.
The inventory system is as simple as it gets. Click the inventory icon and Dropsy reaches into his trousers (it does look somewhat lascivious) and each inventory item is shown separately. It works well enough for most of the game, although during the game you acquire cassette tapes that can be played at various places in town, which clutters the inventory with items that are basically useless except to hear a new musical track. A separate button to show the tapes would have been nice.
Dialogue is carried out via graphic icons above the players’ heads. This is a generally acceptable way to determine what a person desires, although I find myself hitting the occasional snag while trying to figure out the meaning of some icons. For instance, there’s an animated icon of a grey man standing in the rain looking sad. After a few characters in the same general location displayed this icon, I thought they were actually all concerned about the same guy who I assumed was homeless and needed some shelter. Nope, it just meant all those characters were sad for various reasons. It actually IS obvious once I realized it, but I do still think it’s not unreasonable to see how that could be interpreted in a few ways.
Dropsy is one of the few adventure games to employ an “open world.” I’m sure there are a handful of them, although I can’t really think of many off-hand besides some of the early Sierra adventure games. It’s not true open world as some areas are still blocked off at the beginning of the game, but you are given very few directions and a decent-sized map when you begin. I found this to be both a blessing and a curse, as I could happily clown-bounce (it’s a thing) from place to place if I grew weary of a certain location, but my frustration during the beginning of the game was significant when I realized that I had no idea how to get started (plus the initial icon confusion). This could just come down to me being thick on this particular day though. It’s not a hard adventure game by any means, and once you weed a few inventory items out by helping folks, the rest falls into place.
It’s possible to sleep at various locations around the map which transitions day time to night time and vice versa. This does affect gameplay since some characters and buildings are only available during the day or night. Time passes slowly while moving from screen to screen, although there really needs to be a wait option because sometimes you’ll need it to be evening when it’s morning, and if there are no beds close by you’ll click back and forth between the same two screens multiple times until the desired time is reached. This is probably one of my biggest complaints with the game, and could be very easily remedied.
One of the things that I enjoyed most about Dropsy is that, despite showing nothing but a loving persona to all people, animals, and objects that he comes across, he is a troubled clown. Upon sleeping, his dreams are often dark and bloody. But it’s never him performing any horrible actions; the world itself appears to be the monster, and each dream ends with Dropsy being swallowed into the ground. He brings the horrors of losing his mother and his audience with him, and it plagues him. It’s clear that the world for Dropsy is a confusing and terrible place. Perhaps this is why he experiences language as simple icons. Being unable to parse deep meanings from the world around him, he opts for the plan of making friends and spreading joy around him wherever he goes. Should we all be more like Dropsy despite the inevitable lawsuits from hugging strangers? Probably not. But MAYBE.
If you’re looking for a slower paced game with some heart, don’t let Dropsy fall from your grasp.