I backed Jay Tholen and Jolly Corpse‘s Dropsy on Kickstarter a long time ago, in the heady heydays of late 2013. I don’t fully remember why: my long-term memory being what it is, any time frame longer than three months ago might as well be called The Olden Days, The Long Long Time Ago. But I do remember seeing a colourful game palette, a focus on smiling and hugs, and a terrifying monster-looking clown.
Which, in fairness. That’s all clowns.
I threw money at Dropsy, and then forgot about it entirely, save for the occasional bi-monthly Kickstarter update. And then suddenly — suddenly — it’d gone gold. Suddenly. Probably less suddenly if I’d actually paid attention to the contents of those Kickstarter updates. But hey, memory.
The long and the short of it is that I now find myself in possession of a brightly coloured happy huggy scary clown game. And what kind of writer would I be if I didn’t share that joy with all of you?
(Spoiler levels: Narrative, medium-to-high. Mechanical, medium-to-high.)
(Game source: Backed on Kickstarter)
Dropsy’s title screen is, er… I very often say that title screens are ‘sparse’ or ‘minimalist’ in this space, but Dropsy now and forever takes the cake on that descriptor.
It’s almost a distillation of the pure essence of a title screen. To play, or not to play? Give me a few moments while I pretend to ponder that question.
I could talk about the aesthetic, I guess? It’s all brightly coloured and heavily pixelated. I’m tempted to call it 90s-chique; if I found a way to emulate Dropsy on my old Pentium 486, I’m pretty sure the title look and feel wouldn’t be much different. But, then again, that might just be the title. Is the rest of Dropsy a similar love letter to pastel colours and aliasing? Only one way to find out!
On hitting the play button, a cutscene starts. At first, it is nice! I see and hear a big circus tent in the proto-shaded woods, all filled with animals and acrobats and cheering adoring crowds.
And, lest I forget, our titular hero.
But then, tragedy of tragedies! A lit cigar falls on a patch of non-specific flammable liquid!
The results are immediate and catastrophic! Nooo, circus tent!
Within seconds, the circus tent burns to a skeletal crisp, only the trapeze poles reminding me of what once was. A nearby newspaper, reporting on the tragedy, is so shocked that it forgets how to use actual letters.
And it’s against this backdrop, of circus-happiness-to-burning-devastation, that the adventure begins.
Dropsy wakes up.
In a burning circus tent.
Well, this is a strange bedroom. I’m digging the racecar bed, face-melted as it looks, and the TV is nice. But what’s with the open-sky roof? That’s just asking for your laundry to get soaked. And those drawings on the wall, Dropsy, did you make them yourself? They’re a little, er…
I control Dropsy by pointing, and clicking. Man, if there was only some sort of name for this genre of adventure game. The normal cross cursor makes Dropsy walk — I want to say ‘waddle’ to that location, within certain limits. And mousing over certain objects turns the cursor into an eyeball. Which is how I was able to look at those drawings… or at this fun piece of family television programming.
As I walk to the right, the landscape shifts from weird into outright bizarre. I think I’m walking over… a single strip of circus tent cloth? Suspended over an empty inferno? Certain larger patches have more items for me to look at, or set pieces that I can mouth-cursor or hand-cursor interact with. Like a broken xylophone, that still plays a nice scale! Or what appears to be several actual ghosts. Or a xylophone!
Eventually, I hit the end of the path. Against a backdrop of floating spectral animals and melting metal girders, a section of the path comes alive. It looks at me with beady eyes, opens a cavernous maw, and then grabs me with a giant prehensile tongue and swallows me whole.
Then Dropsy wakes up.
Well. This place looks… similar to the last one. Same racecar bed, same television, same cloth backdrop. Less terrible inferno backdrop, though. And no ghosts that I can immediately see. And… is that another hungry hole in the world I see in the distance? No, it’s a puppy!
I click around the tent section that I think is Dropsy’s bedroom. The same drawings from before are there, except less horrible. The TV from before is showing a special report on the lethal circus fire from five years ago, so that puts that in perspective. Then I change the channel, and it’s cartoon shows and cooking guides instead.
There’s a picture on the ground that turns my cursor into a hand when I mouse over it. When I click it, Dropsy picks it up. But where does it go?…
Ah. There’s a new bar on top of the screen! Mousing over it reveals a handful of buttons. A button for Dropsy, a button for the dog. Another button for Dropsy. A map, and a sliders icon. And finally, an icon for Dropsy’s giant, spacious pants… that he apparently just shoves all his items in.
Options, you ask? Yeah, options. Given that it’s a point-and-click affair with a unique graphical style, Dropsy doesn’t have all that much customization. What little there is fits in this one screen:
I play with the other buttons for a bit. The map shows a map, which is a birds-eye view of the city and the land mostly covered in clouds. The first Dropsy button and the dog button don’t really seem to do anything? But the second Dropsy button quickly becomes my favourite: I click on it, notice it starts pulsing when I mouse over the dog, and click, and this results in Dropsy walking over and hugging the dog.
It’s a dedicated hugging button! How cool is that? I’ll tell you how cool it is: it is very, very cool. More games need hug-based controls.
I walk through Dropsy’s tent screens, interacting with stuff here and there. Here’s my xylophone, in one piece this time, still tuned to perfection. There’s a picture of a blue-haired woman, with a party hat — that is, the picture frame is wearing a party hat. Here is a refrigerator, that I grab a box of crème cookies from. And there is a telephone, that I can’t actually use: because of Dropsy’s big, gloved, balloon-like hands, I smash several keys at once every time I try something.
Finally, two rooms and a bathroom later, I reach the outside of the tent. There’s an old man here, with an orange jacket and failing green hair. The man from the drawings, I think. He talks to me, in icons instead of words, and I find I can actually understand him fairly well.
Drawings man! I don’t know who you are, but I’m glad to see you. Hug!
Old Green Man gives me my new mission. It’s apparently Blue-haired Woman’s birthday! I should go get my present and visit her. Just past the apartments, near the graveyard.
I already have my present ready, actually: it’s the picture I just picked up. Adventure game kleptomania instincts, will you ever fail me? But when I try to leave, Doggie Dog barks up. He’s also got a present! Somewhere. It’s buried, I think?
Ah, but this is what the dog button is for: when I click it, controls switches to Doggie Dog. As a dog, I can’t access my inventory, or hug… but I can dig up old socks, and pretend they’re viable birthday presents.
With presents prepared, we’re off! The screen scrolls to the right when I move, but only to a limit; mousing over that screen edge reveals a travel arrow.
Hey, look, I’m in the forest. There’s a squirrel here! I love you, squirrel.
The path splits. The northern path takes me further into the forest, where I meet a surly bird and a heart-broken fish. Neither are interested in hugging, sadly. The eastern path, on the other hand, takes me into the town proper.
I walk into a playground. The kids there are, to put it subtly, not quite thrilled to see me.
Only the little black girl stays behind; she’s too busy mourning the death of a rose to be scared of me. Poor girl. If only I could do something to help. But all I know is hugs, and this isn’t really a time for that.
I walk into the town proper. There is a lot to take in here. I meet two surly teenagers, sitting outside the projects. One is sad, for reasons that I think involve cigarettes? The other is pining for her knight in shining armor. Neither are in a hugs mood.
More people sit further to the right. A beggar asks for money. An old homeless woman has nothing to eat. The people in the 24/7 church wish their preacher would stop being so loud. A street artist is concerned about… something, some cave or another. It’s pretty intriguing how much detail I can pick up from just this icon speech.
As I walk from screen to screen, getting the lay of the land and taking inventory of everyone’s problems, I at one point notice that the ambient sunlight colour has shifted from ‘blue sky afternoon’ to ‘yellow sky evening’. And a few screen changes after that, night officially falls. Interestingly, some parts of the city change at night: while the teenagers are still sulking and the artist is still protesting, the kid in the playground has been replaced by the church preacher, smoking a cigarette on the slide steps and worrying about church turnout. And while the church itself is now closed, the next-door disco is totally open. Do you think the big burly bouncer will be happy to see me?
There’s a lot of unhappiness in this town for a friendly clown pal to tackle. But first and foremost, I have a birthday party to attend to! Blue-haired woman must be wondering what’s taking me: since I left, it’s already been night once, then morning again. She must be worried to death!
I walk through the town. Past the record store, up the road… past the graveyard, and…
Ah. No, not past the graveyard. In the graveyard. Where I, er…
Well, great. Now I have something in my eye.
Okay, okay. I can get over this. So my blue-haired friend and possibly mother is dead, probably related to that terrible fire, and what I thought was a nice visit to a birthday party was actually a pilgrimage of mourning. That’s alright, really. I’ve seen sadder things.
Hey, you know what the best cure for sadness is? Unrestricted kindness to everyone around you! So that’s what I think I’ll do next. This town, and maybe this whole land, is filled with sad people just waiting for a hug. And/or a clown-related answer to whatever ails them. So that’s what I’ll do. Green-haired dad isn’t expecting me home soon anyway. Let’s see what I can find and who I can help!
First things first. I happened to see a nice single rose in the graveyard. If I dig that up, bulb and all, and then get back to that little girl…