Unless you suffer from debilitating coulrophobia, Dropsy may be the best old-school style point-and-click adventure game of the year.
Dropsy — the eponymous character in the game — is a likable, if not somewhat creepy clown who suffers a tremendous loss in a carnival fire. The incident results in the death of a loved one, the end of his career, and earns him the scorn of his community.
Amazingly, Dropsy still manages to keep a positive outlook on life. He refuses to succumb to negative emotions, even as he is constantly reminded of his demons through unpleasant nightmares and shunned by those around him.
The dissonance between Dropsy’s emotional state and his treatment in the world is palpable. A cynical view would hold that Dropsy is intellectually challenged, or at best seriously disconnected from reality. A more generous interpretation would be that Dropsy is a happy-go-lucky type who refuses to be brought down in the face of adversity.
The thing is even as the Dropsy world itself is filled with sadness — throngs of hungry homeless people, angry citizens, and grieving widows — the game still manages to be surprisingly upbeat. This is after all being touted as a “hugventure”. When you solve a puzzle and gain the trust of one of the characters, Dropsy will give them a big old hug (or in the case of one character, fist bump).
The game plays like a classic adventure with basic point-and-click controls and limited direction. You are on your own looking for any items or clues that may help complete tasks within the game. The game is even more limited in its communication devices. There are no audible words or text. Instead, the game uses visual aids that look like emoji to drive the narrative and clue in players on what to do next.
The simplicity displayed is both a strength and a weakness. Dropsy’s charm comes from its old-school throwbacks but it’s really a double-edged sword since the game mechanically feels like it is stuck in the early 1990s. Undoubtedly some hardcore point-and-click adventure fans will find this to be one of the more appealing aspects of the game but for me it acts as a needless speedbump in an otherwise well-executed design.
You can end up spending hours scanning every scene in the game for the right object or action. I don’t mind the back-and-forth nature of traversing Dropsy’s world so much as needing to hunt down specific items without any clue of what I am supposed to be doing. The lack of any textual aids is a problem and will limit the appeal of the game.
That being said, I still enjoyed playing Dropsy, even if it proved to be needlessly frustrating at times. Yes, it offers a flashback to a bygone era but most importantly, Dropsy offers something different for gamers to experience. Too many games in recent years have gone down the road purporting to be life-like but actually offer cartoonishly bad depictions of weighty subjects. Dropsy presents itself in an almost cartoon-like world but actually conveys emotional meaning and artistic value.