Dropsy, published by Devolver Digital and developed by Tendershoot and A Jolly Corpse, has thwarted my expectations. My initial impressions of the game’s videos, pictures, and description left me distinctly underwhelmed. I am a picky fan of ‘point and click’ adventure games to begin with and the retro, pixelated art style did not endear itself to me and neither did the concept. The horrifying visage of Dropsy, the game’s eponymous protagonist, made me feel that the game was some sort of Pennywise simulator in which I would be terrifying children both young and old. This could not be further from the truth.
Dropsy himself isn’t a malevolent force in this world, in fact he may be one of the nicest characters I’ve ever played in a video game. All the puzzles I’ve been able to find revolve around solving other people’s problems and making them happy. I brought a sandwich to a starving homeless woman, a pocketwatch with a portrait of youthful couple to a mourning widower, and a flower to a lovelorn woman. The game rewarded me for all these acts of kindness by allowing Dropsy to hug the person they just helped.
This brings me to one of my favourite features in this game; there is a dedicated hug button. Dropsy, the horrifying clown, spends most of the game making people happy and hugging them. This makes the game very sweet in its design and brings a smile to my face even as I write this. It would be too saccharine for my tastes were it not for how the game adds in some very dark elements to balance things out.
The first ‘quest’ that you are given in the game is to head out to meet a friend of Dropsy’s for what I thought was a birthday party and to give them a present. I made my way across town, spreading joy as I went, and got to a graveyard. It was then that I realised that I had fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the quest.
All information in the game is presented in a non-verbal form with pictures largely being used to communicate what characters are saying. What I was celebrating was not, in fact, a birthday. It was an anniversary… of someone’s death. I laid the present down on the grave. Pretty bloody sombre, that is.
The game also has some surreal horror elements (which I’ve largely found to be in Dropsy’s dreams) wherein the environment takes on a the form of a pixelated hellscape with fire and brimstone. I can’t say I did not enjoy the juxtaposition with the inherently positive outlook of Dropsy himself.
One aspect of the game that I liked was that as you successfully completed puzzles and brought happiness to people around you, you’d be able to find a crayon drawing of them on the wall in Dropsy’s house. It’s a nice little feature which I feel reinforces the child-like naivety and happy-go-lucky nature of the game’s protagonist and helps reinforce a sense of progress.
The game map is expansive with many environments for Dropsy to explore and diverse NPCs to encounter. One feature that I feel that the game sorely needs is a fast-travel system or a way to get Dropsy to speed up Dropsy as his slow waddle across a screen can get on your nerves at times. There is an option in the game to make Dropsy’s shoes honk as he walks, and I found this to be mildly amusing but not able to completely overcome my frustration.
EDIT: The devs have informed me (as well as giving me a “greasy, warm hug”) that there is in fact a method of fast travel which can be unlocked.
Beneath the terrifying exterior of surreal horror, you’ll find a game which appears to have a lot of heart underneath. I look forward to playing the game after full release and I am humbled by the fact that I had to relearn not to judge a book by its cover… or to not condemn a clown by his horrifying grin.