Kickstarter adventures: “Dropsy” (PC)

Kickstarter can bring out the weirdest, but also most wonderful games, and nothing fits this description better than A Jolly Corpse‘s and Tendershoot (Jay Tholen)‘s hugventure Dropsy.

Dropsy (PC)
(USA 2015, developers: A Jolly Corpse/Tendershoot (Jay Tholen), publisher: Devolver Digital, platform: PC)

After losing his parents in a tragic fire, clown Dropsy has to clear his name, find the truth and hug everyone and everything he can.

This sad world needs a hug
It doesn’t happen too often that a term describing the gameplay also summarizes the goal of a game, but in Dropsy‘s case, hugventure fits perfectly. Playing a weird-looking clown (which clowns don’t look weird?) who only wants to hug people, animals and even things sounds like a running joke taken too far, but most of the time, the concept works, even if the plot and character development suffer in the process. This might also have to do with the lack of speech or even text, because all characters communicate via visual icons, i.e. bubbles above their heads telling the player what they think about Dropsy or what they need in order to be happy.

The story takes a surprisingly dark tone right at the beginning, only to be replaced by satirical elements, e.g. with a lady in church preaching about the downfall of society because of bad music, a pharmaceutical company selling their products for high prices, but also more touching life/death, love/hate scenes, only to get a bit out of hand at the end, which again makes more or less sense in the overall weirdness. The world Dropsy finds himself in is populated by memorable characters like the aforementioned ones, but also has animals, trees or even robots who speak to him. With various locations like a small town, a desert, or woods, to name but a few, there is always something new to discover. The hugging principle might not be the most suspenseful plot element, but in the context of the world, it holds everything and everyone together (pun intended).

Hug them all, each and everyone, and everything
Hugging everything and everyone isn’t all, though. While it’s possible to just give a tree or gravestone a warm embrace, people aren’t always as easily convinced, often having a grudge against the clown who just wants to be loved or spread the fuzzy feeling. This is indicated by an upside down smiley face, followed by hints as to how one can help the person/animal/thing. Bringing the right object to ease the pain isn’t easy, because in order to get a specific item, one has to go through many different stages for some people. If this sounds like fetch quests, this isn’t really the case. Despite not being able to combine objects, the puzzles are often quite original and connected to other chains of events. One memorable part is when two lost brothers have to be reunited, convincing the one that he actually has a twin brother. In order to complete this task one also has to win the confidence of a shop owner who mourns the death of his wife.

Hugging animal friends and seeing the big hugging picture
But it’s not all doom and gloom that has to be avoided to win people’s trust and turn their sad smiles in the other direction. On his way, Dropsy meets three animals who help him with their special abilities: a dog who can dig (and also urinate on fire hydrants), a rat who can squeeze through small holes and tight places, and a bird who can fly to and reach high-up places. Despite having four playable characters and a large map with various locations, the solutions to problems are still logical in a weird way. Like the best of classic adventure games, one is always rewarded with a new place to visit or person to make happy.

There are also collectibles which at the end flesh out the story and characters a bit more, which might be an incentive for some, but others will be disappointed that these revelations couldn’t have been included in the normal story progression. However, a cool feature is that each time Dropsy makes someone or something happy, a child-like drawing shows up in his circus tent room, resulting in a whole wall covered with faces. One also has to decide in some scenes who to make happy, with someone else being made unhappy as a result. Not everyone or everything has to be hugged in order to see the ending, but the more hugging is done, the more people will react positively at the end of the game when Dropsy meets them.

Not everything is huggy-dory
The game isn’t perfect, though, with some design decisions making progress especially cumbersome. One of these is the inclusion of a day/night cycle. Certain characters can only be found during specific times, and while it’s possible to just walk around for the time to pass, sleeping in designated places only helps to a degree. This is mainly because one has to find them first and then be able to choose between 4 different times: morning, noon, sundown, and night. While this certainly adds to realism and the number of puzzles, it’s a pain to coordinate with the time spent to actually get to the exact location. What’s also annoying is that it takes a while before one can use a car to reach various points on the map, and even if one has it, it’s only possible to choose them when being in a specific screen. Another problem is that some objects can easily be missed and certain visual icons aren’t easy to make out, which is due to the pixel graphics and a missing hotkey feature.

Watch them hug and listen to the music of the heart
Point-and-click adventure games with a pixel art style have been quite common in indie games, but unlike the Wadjet Eye Games or other developers/publishers who aim for a more realistic approach, Dropsy is very colorful with characters who’re a hybrid of the weird and charm of old LucasArts games. Animations are also quite lovely and often fun to watch. Especially the clown’s small outbursts of joy look funny and touching at the same time. Despite the low screen resolution and some aspect ratio problems I had right from the start, which fortunately disappeared for a weird reason, the game features varied backgrounds and lovely cutscene artwork.

As there isn’t any voice acting or the most comprehensive range of sound effects, the music is the only thing to be mentioned. It certainly isn’t for everyone with some off-key tunes which fit the strange world, but can also be straining on the ears. Fortunately, there are many catchy tunes and atmospheric set pieces, making wandering through the environments in different moods less stressful. A few tapes are scattered around as well which can be collected and which are played when Dropsy drives around in his car, ranging from various different music styles from punk rock, metal to pop or hip hop.

Give this game and the developers a hug
Dropsy is a weird game, there’s no way around it, with graphics and a soundtrack which aren’t for everyone. With some nightmarish and bloody scenes, it’s also not a very child-friendly game, and those not liking clowns in particular will have a hard time as well. However, behind the strange facade, there’s a great point-and-click adventure game that is not only original in its open-world approach, but features some fun puzzles in addition to memorable characters.

It shows that adventure games don’t need never ending text wastes to tell touching stories. While Dropsy’s might remain in the background for most of the playtime, the people, animals, creatures and things he meets stay in the player’s mind far longer than what some wanna be comic adventures try to create with dialogues which are too long. So give this hugventure a try and get the warm fuzzy feeling the clown himself gets every time he embraces someone or something.

Score: 8.5/10

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About nufafitc

Being an avid gamer, cinemaniac, and bookworm in addition to other things the internet and new media present, I'm also very much into DIY music, rock and pop in particular. Writing short or longer pieces about anything that interests me has always made me happy. As both an editor for German website "Adventure-Treff" and UK website "Future Sack", I like to write reviews and news about recent developments in the movies, games and book industry.
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