Clowns get a pretty bad rap most of the time, but what if they’re just misunderstood? That’s certainly the case with Dropsy, an otherwise creepy clown chock full of child-like wonder. His circus may have burned down but he soldiers on with his clown dad and clown puppy as best he can, dispensing hugs to anyone who’ll have them. Starting with humble tasks he soon finds himself embroiled in the machinations of some powerful people in his surreal world. Navigating your way through all this madness takes a lot of item hunting, a lot of experimenting, and a lot of hugs.
The first thing you need to know about Dropsy is that it’s an adventure game with no text. Dropsy himself can’t speak or read, but he can get the general gist from people. This means there’s no dialogue in the game, just lots of illustrated bubbles showing items or emotions. Similarly the notes and signs throughout the world appear to be garbled nonsense, but are actually written in a substitution language you can decipher with enough effort. These elements give the game a more alien feel, appropriate when playing as an unfortunate and misunderstood clown.
More than that, though, the world of Dropsy is one of the more bizarre ones to be found among adventure games. From the familiar forest you start in, you’ll travel to a desert junk fort, a biomedical megacorp, a viking enclave, and stranger places still. The people who inhabit these places are just as weird and colorful but tend to have familiar needs, like money or flowers or just a lumpy shoulder to cry on. Dropsy can also communicate with animals and gathers a small menagerie to help him, each with their own puzzle-solving specialty like the doggie’s helpful digging. It’s a surreal game that only gets moreso as you progress, and part of the challenge is figuring out how everything relates.
In terms of gameplay, the alien feel makes this a more confusing adventure than most. The pictorial language makes the items or actions you need quite clear, but finding those items or performing those actions in a world that doesn’t always make sense can be a challenge. As clear as the wordless dialogue is, it makes it harder to remember what you’re supposed to be doing. For me at least, text and words stick in my mind a lot longer than icons. Dropsy’s world is also wide open from the start, giving you dozens of scenes to wander around when you only need to be focusing on a handful. It reminds me a lot of older LucasArts adventures, which for all of their humor and freedom could make it quite hard to know what you’re supposed to do.
On the bright side, toddling around the countryside will reveal plenty of interesting places and things to do. The main plotline in Dropsy is tight and direct but there’s a boatload of sidequests to take on if you like. Dropsy has a dedicated hug command and can use it on just about everything remotely sentient, but most require some kind of item or assistance before they’ll allow a damp embrace. Your pup has things to pee on, and there are cassettes and other collectibles to find. You can spend a lot of time in Dropsy’s world exploring and solving, and it’s bound to be charming enough to keep you going.
The graphics are plenty familiar pixel art but taken to adorable new heights with vibrant colors and creative designs. Scenes are a joy to look at and every character has their unique flair. Dropsy himself is such a pleasure to watch in action, bouncing around town, waving his noodley arms, and spasming with joy at the simplest triumphs. The soundtrack is solid as well, featuring some very fitting, atmospheric tracks. It’s really a solid adventure game from top to bottom, just one that’ll take a little more effort than what you might be accustomed to. But as charming and touching as it can be, I guarantee it’s worth the effort.