NEED TO KNOW
What is it? A hug-centric point-and-click.
Expect to pay: £7 / $10
Developer: A Jolly Corpse, Tendershoot
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Reviewed on: Core i5-3570K, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 780Ti
Link: Official site
Dropsy's circus of eccentric characters parade through a plot which starts loopy and aims for deranged, dressing up the otherwise dry business of using objects on other objects in dark comic style. It’s a fiercely traditional adventure game that starts with Dropsy the clown, his faithful hound, and a series of orientation puzzles (Dropsy can hug people and use items; the dog can dig and piss on things). Soon you assemble a whole party of misfits and tackle challenges that demand eidetic memory and no small amount of good fortune.
On Dropsy’s quest to make the world a happier place, I’ve brewed soup for the king of a dump, raided a high-security medical facility, gone looking for little green men and much more. The variety makes it, and it’s rare to find a screen that doesn’t contain some alluringly cryptic point of interest, the relevance of which will hit you only hours down the line. The exceptions are the occasional repeating puzzle (expect to get a lot of use out of your chicken mask), and lengthy backtracking. One NPC had me trek all the way home for some shut-eye before returning to the very same place the next morning, but these instances become less noticeable once fast travel by way of clown car is unlocked.
Dropsy more closely resembles The Secret of Monkey Island than the slick 21 century point-and-click stylings of Broken Age. It's also oddly horrifying. ‘Dropsy’ being the old-timey term for oedema, the clown himself is bulbous and lumpen with a face that ensures children who didn’t fear clowns before sure will now.
But Dropsy himself has nothing to do with horror, as marketing pre-singalong trailer tended to suggest. The clown wants to make people smile. Nothing makes his distended, grotesque face happier, and each successful hug results in a full-screen announcement and a scream of ecstasy. Dropsy’s ugliness throws the positive impact he has on the world into stark relief—people hate him, but he doesn’t care, matching the desired object to the right grumpy human (or extraterrestrial) just to see them grin. He has no ulterior motive, and it makes for a roundly cheering experience. In turn, however, this child-like, unabashed joy makes sombre moments—like visiting a friend in the game’s opening hour—shock like a popped balloon. The developers’ handle on tone is uncanny.
Dropsy captures the absurd, heady rush of ‘90s point-and-clicks flawlessly—it feels as I remember adventure games feeling, where eking out the next bit of hyperactive story was more important than the puzzles themselves. But also preserved are the chronic problems of the genre: puzzles that feel like the product of a designer’s idiosyncrasies as opposed to common sense. I needed a vampire mask from a costume shop, but the proprietor was clearly operating a fearsome ‘no clowns’ policy because I got chased away on approaching the counter. I had a locket that belonged to him, featuring a photo of his wife, who I knew to be dead—returning this, I thought, was sure to reconcile things. Nope: going near that till with locket in hand resulted in the same fit of abuse. The irritating thing is, I had the solution but wasn’t going through the motions in the specific place in which the game deems it should work. At night, the proprietor moves somewhere he will accept the locket and make amends, but it takes luck or a methodical search of the map in both day and night phases to discover. In the meantime, I was off chasing smoke thinking the correct approach was no good.
Dropsy's interface can cause unnecessary difficulty spikes too. Rather than text or speech, it uses a handful of pictograms to convey the wants and needs of the grumpy population, and since things are drawn in just a handful of pixels, translating what NPCs are trying to tell you is often more effort than puzzling out how to achieve it. In Dropsy’s world, the difference between a Twinkie and experimental medicine is not always clear.
Dropsy is sometimes dysfunctional, but loving, happy and fun. Dark undertones like Dropsy’s nightmares and the fact he’s an arson suspect will get you moving, but it’s positivity that will carry you to the end. You’re not puzzling for personal gain, but to make the world better for everyone, and Dropsy’s enthusiasm for light, carefree problem-solving is infectious.