A Jolly Corpse, Tendershoot
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Dropsy. The Devolver published point and click “hug-venture” about a nightmarish clown had all of the ingredients to indicate high levels of gross-out humour. I went in thinking it’d have the potential to top Hector: Badge of Carnage in the ewww stakes, but I was wrong. Instead the game has managed to surprise me by being a charming, perhaps even heartwarming event from start to finish.
It’s not without the occasional gross moment: your inventory is kept in your humongous clown trousers, with Dropsy rummaging around for his junk in his junk. More often though the tone is bleak. You’ll find yourself giving the homeless money so they can drink themselves happy or being scorned angrily by many of the depressed folk that inhabit this strange world. The story itself opens with Dropsy and his family in a circus big top moments before a fire consumes the venue, killing his mother, an event which outwardly doesn’t seem to have stopped our titular clown but shows itself in his troubled dreams.
While the world is innately glum, the joy comes from the naivety with which our clown experiences the world around him. Your only interaction with the world beyond solving the puzzles is a great big bearhug and there’s no way to harm or deliberately antagonise those around you: Dropsy wouldn’t think of it. There’s a heart of gold beneath his nightmarish visage.
There’s a disconnect between Dropsy the clown and reality. You’re unable to communicate with anyone in any meaningful way beyond hugs and -nigh indecipherable- hieroglyphics, and the horrible things happening throughout the town he inhabits are viewed with a childlike joy: Dropsy just wants to love and be loved, and there’s no greater validation for him than a big warm hug. Whether it’s helping a small child with her wilting roses or an elderly man coming to terms with the death of a partner, there are no lengths you won’t go to to help those around you have a better day, even while Dropsy himself is waddling away from his problems in big squeaky shoes. After the embrace, crayon drawings of those you’ve hugged appear on his bedroom wall. Seeing the happy caricatures of those that i’d helped on this wall never failed to make me smile.
The art direction goes a long way to reinforce that naivety, with even the horrific nightmares looking idyllic as Dropsy ventures through them. The art style of the game somehow manages to make a game surrounded with an oppressive sadness not only bearable, but kind of cutesy. The pixely art isn't unique of course, but it does bring to mind many of the adventure games of years gone by.
This deftness to tone is so absolute that when you come up against one of the games somber moments, it stops you cold. Dropsy remains disconnected, and continues on with a goofy smile. It’s incredibly affecting, and one of the real strengths of the game.