Adventure Gamers Awards
The word “dropsy” is a colloquial name for edema, a medical condition characterized by abnormal fluid retention in body cavities. As such, it’s pretty much the perfect title for Dropsy the clown’s journey of self-discovery, and not just because its costumed protagonist is hugely rotund. This is a bold, unapologetically old-school point-and-click adventure that’s bursting at the seams with vibrant settings, bizarre characters, and promising ideas. Unfortunately, even in the absence of any actual dialogue, Dropsy is so bloated with unwieldy filler that it often stops being enjoyable and starts to feel painful until the swelling subsides and you begin to feel better again. It’s an admirable attempt to do something different that certainly succeeds in spurts, but just as players will discover along the way, not every ill can be cured with just a hug.
It’s a shame the game’s impairments undermine its healthy ambition, because Dropsy is quite literally a feel-good adventure at heart, though you probably won’t think so at first. The titular clown is a bulbous, ugly fellow with the requisite makeup and only three yellow teeth. What’s worse, he’s plagued by hellish nightmares from the memory of his circus burning down with his mother trapped in it, a fire that many townsfolk suspect him of causing. Dropsy is not a horror-inducing monster, except maybe to coulrophobes, but rather a tragic figure simply looking to find his place in an uncaring world. He’s also a big galoot, a simple but loving buffoon who just wants to make people happy, completely undeterred by their distrust and even outright hostility towards him.
Dropsy’s desire to greet everyone he meets with a hug surprisingly represents the bulk of the gameplay. This is both a blessing and a curse. The blessing part should be obvious, in that the very premise is a heartwarming endeavour to bring some kindness to a hurting world even when that love seems hopelessly unrequited. Heck, Dropsy doesn’t even discriminate: he’ll hug critters, trees (not like that) and statues he thinks could use cheering up too. If you can’t feel at least a bit of joy in bringing a smile to the faces of those around you, then you’re probably a little dead inside and the life of a clown definitely isn’t for you, even in videogame form.
The curse part of the equation comes from the execution. For one thing, befriending people is so prevalent that it overwhelms the main storyline, shunting it aside as a secondary consideration for vast portions of the game. In fact, there’s so little actual plot that the sum total of effort required to push the story forward likely wouldn’t fill more than two of Dropsy’s six-plus hours of play time on its own. Then again, there’s so little to the story that it isn’t really much of a loss, at least until the end when it rushes off in a cockamamie direction that would make even the most radical sci-fi fanatic cringe. Until that point, the only mandatory objectives feel like extensions of the core conceit, as you create a memorial for Dropsy’s deceased mother and find medicine for his sick father. Along the way, you’ll first acquire and later rescue some little animal companions when they inevitably get in trouble.
The bigger issue with being the resident cheer-giver relates to the game’s open-world map. Right from the moment you step out of your leftover circus tent, you have instant access to much of the world around you. Such freedom can be a good thing, but to be effective it needs to service the gameplay, and here it’s more of a hindrance. In conjunction with the lack of any substantial story motivations, you’re left wandering aimlessly through the sprawling, maze-like web of streets and forests, deserts and caves looking for something you can actually do. You can try hugging everyone you encounter, of course, but after a few confidence-inspiring successes, you’ll find most of your further advances rebuffed.
In order to make people receptive to your enthusiastic embrace, you must first help them overcome whatever is making their lives miserable. This is conveyed with no talking (unless you count some Charlie Brown-like wah-wah-wahs as speech) or text of any kind, but rather strictly through pictograms that appear as thought bubbles over their heads. Again, this is a great idea in theory that has been cleverly used before, but here it’s clumsily implemented with images and objectives that can be very difficult to decipher. Even if you do interpret the visually represented need correctly, it could take ages and miles of trudging back and forth before you find anything that remotely resembles a clue. It slows the pacing not quite to a crawl, but at least to the perpetually lazy amble of Dropsy the clown.
If ever a game needed at least a double-click-to-exit option, the scrolling Dropsy is it. Instead, this game’s mechanics seem determined to maximize player inconvenience. The basic point-and-click controls are easy enough to grasp, with just a single-click moving the protagonist about and performing the default actions prescribed by the smart cursor on hotspots. At least, it will if Dropsy feels like it. Often he’ll simply shrug unhelpfully, offering no hint at all as to whether you’re on the right track or what you’re doing wrong. At times, for example, he’ll only carry out an action if you possess the proper inventory item (with no indication it’s needed), at which point he’ll do it automatically. One time I needed to hug a character a second time to overcome their reluctance, even though every other instance of hug failure means that other actions are required first. As sad as Dropsy feels whenever he’s rejected, discovering this arbitrary break in the game’s own rules well after the fact made me feel far more miserable.
Extra complexity is tucked away at the top of the screen, where a drop-down bar contains additional icons for hugging, inventory, and three initially blacked-out options. You’ll have no idea what the latter signify at first, but eventually they’ll be filled with Dropsy’s dog, mouse, and bird companions. By clicking their respective icons, you can switch control to them whenever you like so long as they remain in your party. Once more, teaming up different abilities is a terrific concept: the dog is able to dig (as well as sniff out the odd useful area of interest and relieve himself on suitable targets), the mouse can fit into small holes, and the bird can fly higher than Dropsy can stretch. I had no idea these options would eventually become available, of course, leaving me totally flummoxed over how to obtain out-of-reach objects for the longest time. But even after they did, there is often no cursor indication of newly-accessible passages, making their limited usage far less intuitive than they had any business being.
The menu bar also contains a link to a mini-map, which inexplicably refuses to allow quick travel until quite late in the game, forcing an inordinate amount of backtracking and probably a fair bit of getting lost until you find your bearings, particularly given how obscure some of the exits can be. Honestly, with all the hiking to and fro, it’s a wonder Dropsy isn’t significantly skinnier by the end of his travels. Even once the travel ability is acquired it’s more nuisance than necessary, as it’s linked to Dropsy’s car and doesn’t take you everywhere you want to go directly. You’ll often need to get out and roam some more, then hoof it back to your wheels (correction: to one of the pre-determined travel spots, as not all locations allow it) to go somewhere else.Continued on the next page...
What our readers think of Dropsy
Posted by thorn969 on Apr 5, 2017
It's an interesting concept... hugs as a game mechanism, no dialogue, etc... but there is far too little story to make it worthwhile. And far too little direction about what to do which often leaves you wandering aimlessly. The puzzles were generally mostly...