A few hours in
Yeah, success! Dropsy made the world a better place!
I spent my first moments out of the graveyard exploring the surroundings. This land is actually an island, if I’m reading the map correctly; a large, varied island, with forests and deserts and beaches and some weird alien plant landscape. And, as predicted, it’s filled with unhappy people. The only person I met that wasn’t dealing with some sort of issue was this 47-eqsue man in black.
From here, I went on to play through Dropsy’s story. It was mostly a happy and positive affair, filled with rescuing dogs and helping out sick dads and performing in the circus. And it made sense, sort of, in its own way, right up until the point where it didn’t make sense anymore.
All in all, I spent a nice handful of hours with Dropsy. It’s a fun enough game, short and sweet. I adore the visual aesthetic and the clever colour use, and the sound design is solid, too. And the fact that the core narrative conceit is ‘helping people for the sake of helping people’ shouldn’t be understated. That said, it has a few snags gameplay-wise; nothing quite enough to ‘ruin’ the experience, but noteworthy nonetheless.
I think my biggest Dropsy love is the narrative. This is a game about a smiling clown man who spends of his time making other people happy. I genuinely think this is important: Dropsy goes out of his way to address the sadnesses of others (it helps that people describe their issues out loud at every turn) purely out of the kindness of his heart. There’s no reward in it for Dropsy, save for a smile and a hug. This is reflected mechanically as well: none of the storyline puzzles you get are explicitly ‘make this and this person happy’. Dropsy helps people because Dropsy wants to help people.
Riffing off of the ‘scary clown’ memes of the past decades, there is a lot of overt and covert horror in Dropsy’s world. Monsters, aliens, the otherworldly weirdness of the dark. The opening dream of the burning circus is a good example. And Dropsy’s face, of course.
But the joke is that all this horrible imagery foreshadows a heel turn or monster reveal for Dropsy that never quite happens. Dropsy’s naive, unflappable niceness and optimism is a constant in this world. And this isn’t even ham-handedly played as a ‘those who judge on appearances are the real monsters’ kind of deal; it just is. Without spoiling anything of note, the very last interaction between Dropsy and the game’s primary antagonist is a hug. Of course it would be.
Dropsy is a game about a nice guy doing nice stuff for nice people. And then things are also happening in the background.
This adventure into positivity is supported by a downright gorgeous pixel-art style. I called it ’90s-chique’ on the previous page, but that’s almost downplaying it too much. Every environment and every place is lovingly handcrafted to evoke that graphical style of yesteryear. Maybe ’90s-deluxe’ would be a fairer term.
I particularly like the consistent use of bright, identifiable colour palettes for different areas of the world. The forest is green and brown, the desert is yellow, the city is red bricks and grey asphalt. The island village of vampire hunters is a deep brown, and the otherworldly landscape of alien plants is all washed-out purple grey and bright blue-turquoise. The bright colours and the attention to detail bring the world alive, and the different colour schemes help give each discrete ‘area’ its own sense of place.
And the cloud covers when night starts falling… gorgeous.
Mechanically, Dropsy is a point-and-click adventure game pur sang. You rub objects on other objects to make things happen. Most ‘puzzles’ take the shape of finding the right object in the world, and presenting that to the right person. And then, hugging.
It’s not all giving things to people that makes this game tick, though. Dropsy has a small handful of more clever mechanical puzzles, including a few navigation challenges and one timed robot-avoiding minigame. These more interesting puzzles are mostly made possible by Dropsy’s animal companions: next to Doggy Dog, you are at points joined by Mousy Mouse and Birdy Bird. And yes, as far as you know, those are their actual names. Each of the animal friends has their own way or ways of interacting with the world: Doggy can dig things up and enter small tunnels (and pee on things that look like fire hydrants), Birdy can reach high places, and Mousy can enter even the smallest of areas — often cleverly marked by trails of mousey footprints. Together with Dropsy’s human abilities of Tool Manipulation, this makes for an extensive tool- and ability-set, and this is put to clever use here and there.
The vast majority of puzzles is of the Give-Thing-To-Man variety, though. Here, the puzzle isn’t just to find the right object in the world, but also to figure out what the right object is. It’s easy for some: for instance, the beggar very clearly wants coins. And when the homeless woman asks for food, her icon is that of a particular sandwich — that just happens to sit in the next church over. Similarly, the black girl wishing for a knight in shining armor is easily made happy with the exact kind of flower she daydreams of.
Other people are harder to satisfy. The preacher wants to see more people in her church, but how? What is one clown to do? The music store owner is looking for good live performance players, but how do you tell him you know a few? And for the longest time, I couldn’t make heads or tails of the white teen’s girl sad mood and cigarette emoji. It wasn’t until a chance encounter with another objective that I found out she was just bored.
Again, I have to stress how much I enjoy that this is all unbridled kindness and optimism. Everything Dropsy does, he does to make lives better. He would never, for instance, find a man who’s mortally afraid of vampires, cut that man’s house’s generator in the dead of night, and then use a vampire mask to scare the man out of his own house so he could steal all his stuff.
And because of the early mechanical focus on doing chores and getting hugs, a neat feedback loops develops that sublimates the ‘main quest’ explicit goals into your self-chosen activity. Or, in other words…
I’ll tell you what game the gameplay flow of Dropsy reminded me of a little: the 2009 pirate RPG, Risen. What I really enjoyed about Risen was that it was good at ‘hiding’ the main quest progress items and triggers, and then making you feel really cool for finding them. For instance, a late-game ‘side’ quest has you dig up a pirate treasure, based on a treasure map and overheard conversation. When I did that quest, it felt optional: it was my choice to do all this, and I figured the whole thing out. But at the end, it turned out that an important main quest item was hidden among the treasure. And I thought this was really cool! Instead of forcing me to go on an island-spanning fetch quest for these McGuffins, they were hidden in areas and adventures I would access organically. Because I wanted to, and because the game mechanically incentivized me to do it. It would’ve been much less great if I wasn’t exactly the kind of player that Risen was counting on, true. But I was, and it worked out great.
Dropsy does a similar thing. There are certain people you have to help: the aforementioned vampire-phobic man, for instance, has an important key to an important area, which he gives to you if you help him. But I didn’t know that when I did it! I helped that guy because I wanted to help that guy. Because the game, explicitly and implicitly, had been telling me that ‘helping people’ was an intrinsically worthwhile activity.
I happen to think that this interweaving of the required and the optional is an incredibly clever system. And it makes for a fun, smooth overall gameplay experience…
…if it works.
The mechanical problems Dropsy has are mostly those shared among the whole point-and-click adventure genre. Sometimes, you’re not gonna know what to do. For instance, I didn’t know how to get access to the Sand King’s domain the second time around. How was I supposed to know that the third ingredient for his soup is… listen, just never eat soup with the Sand King, alright? Point is: it’s not unlikely that you’re going to get stuck. Characters are usually pretty clear and pretty vocal about what they want you to do, but it’s fairly easy to miss things. My first trip to the island, I completely overlooked the fishing pole. I thought it was just background art! It helps that Dropsy’s cursor changes visually and pulsates whenever you’re near something that is in some way meaningful. But even that isn’t always enough.
And when you get stuck, you are boned. Dropsy has zero allowances for players not knowing what to do. No hint system, no increasing level of detail: help none. Playing the game straight, your only recourse is to start Point And Click Plan Omega: patiently walk from screen to screen, rubbing every item in your inventory on every other item. And not even that always works.
Worse: at this early stage in the game’s life cycle, there aren’t very many guides and walkthroughs out, either. I had to very patiently click through six hours of a video Let’s Play, two videos’ worth, in order to find the six seconds of scene that got me farther. And if that video hadn’t existed yet…
Some early puzzles are also made a little more aggravating than necessary because of how much of Dropsy’s slow-ass walking is involved. Luckily, the Dropsy Mobile you get halfway in neatly alleviates that issue.
Dropsy’s day-night cycle, visually beautiful as it is, actually further complicates matters. As I mentioned, some parts of the world state change depending on whether it’s day or night. Which means that if you walked into the graveyard by day, and picked up everything there was to pick, you might mistakenly assume that you’ve seen all there is to see. Which means you might not go back at night. Which means you can’t make the costume store owner happy. Which means you can’t get the vampire mask. Which means…
The fact that the day-night state is important is foreshadowed by the many places Dropsy can sleep. But even then, the where and when of it mattering can be… tricky.
Again: with me, this didn’t happen often. And given that I’m in no way a point-and-click savant, I have to assume it’s not a terrible problem throughout. But it can happen. And it’s incredibly frustrating when it does. I don’t suspect it’ll be a major problem for much longer, to be honest: I can only imagine guides and wikis are being written as we speak. But for you early adopters, or those of you who get really invested in solving a game ‘the pure way’… well, just be prepared for one or two rage-inducing island walks, I guess.
I want to end by re-establishing that I like Dropsy. It’s neat, and happy, and colourful, and positive, and at times really fairly smart. Barring possible roadblocks, it’s not a very difficult game, and it’s not very long either: I clocked in at about five hours, and at least some of those hours were spent on pixel-hunting and replaying.
I don’t actually know if I beat the ‘whole’ game, either. I got to the end, that much is for sure. But… I can’t help but feel that I didn’t see everything? I still have one or two items in my pants-ventory that haven’t done anything. And I never did find a way to the sea-side shack: both roads were forevermore closed off to me. Did I miss an important thing?
I also don’t know if I hugged everyone. Or, rather, I know I didn’t: I never found the last book page for the anti-vampire priest. But I only discovered later in the game that Dropsy’s hugging is in no way restricted to animate things. I hugged a lot, this I know: Dropsy adds drawings to his bedroom wall for every hug scored, and my wall is extensive. But whether or not I got everyone, only Jay Tholen can tell.
Dropsy runs for ten bucks on Steam. It’s a really well-done point-and-click adventure game, an interesting story about a kind clown in a strange world, and maybe one of the first games I’ve ever seen to incentivize and systemize kindness. So if you’re interested in any of those things, either three of them, I’d recommend checking it out some time. Satisfaction guaranteed, or your hug back.
Jarenth wishes more games had dedicated hug buttons. You get a hug, and you get a hug! Share hugs with him on Twitter or hang out with him on Steam. And if you dig Indie Wonderland and Ninja Blues in general, why not consider supporting our Patreon campaign?