Review – Dropsy (Switch)
There are times where I realize the Nintendo Switch simply cannot be everything I want it to be. As much as I love my plucky little indie machine, there are games that don’t translate onto the small screen. Rhythm games, for example, are great when docked but simply abhorrent to do on-the-go. Trying to bang out a session of Taiko Drum Masters is awful with buttons and not my massive USB drum. First-person shooters, by the same scale, simply don’t feel awesome when I’m squinting at something instead of being wrapped in the world. Yet the biggest crux I have is graphical adventures. I love these games so much, but I made sure my own copy of Return to Monkey Island was a Steam purchase so that I could have it on the right playing field. I want the big screen, I want the full PC setup, and, most importantly, I want the mouse.
When it came time for me to play Dropsy, the surreal clown adventure from Devolver Digital and the annals of the Something Awful forums, I made sure to trim my expectations accordingly for what I was playing. After all, Dropsy was not designed for the Switch, and there’s a very good reason this seven year old game was pulled from the iOS store some time ago. Trying to bring the ideas of the point-and-click engagement to a combination of buttons and touchscreen effort simply doesn’t feel great. It’s totally functional and usable, don’t get me wrong. Dropsy, if anything, is very accommodating to try and match the environment of the Switch for players who want to give the game a whirl. I would, if possible, recommend making sure you have a mouse, if only because there is a LOT to see and do.
Dropsy, for those who just wandered into this review, is the story of a very upsetting circus clown who genuinely wants to make the world smile. It’s not Dropsy’s fault that he looks like a backwater version of a clown, but that doesn’t make him any less instantly unappealing to those who see him. Anyway, the circus where Dropsy and his father have worked unfortunately burned down, and it looks like the blame falls squarely on the unfortunate clown’s shoulders. Dropsy believes in the good of the world and of people in general, so he and his faithful dog sidekick set out to clear his name.
Along the way, Dropsy wants to do what he does best, which is to hug every single thing willing to accept his love. If that means helping people out with their own problems before getting hugged, Dropsy’s happy to do that. After all, anything is worth making people smile and earning a hug!
As a graphical adventure/point-and-click game, Dropsy is a real experiment in storytelling. There is not a single word bubble that occurs throughout this game, from Dropsy, his dog, the NPCs, or otherwise. There are a couple of signs on stores that appear to be in English, but most of the time you get iconography to represent what might be inside. As such, you also have that same caveat when “talking” to people: they’ll use pictographic speech bubbles to give you an idea of what they want or how they feel, and you take it from there.
Dropsy is able to vaguely interact with people and objects, with the option to also use one of the items he may have discovered along the way. You also will occasionally control the dog to do actions Dropsy cannot, such as dig holes, go into small spaces, and pee on things. Usually hydrants, but sometimes other things.
The balancing act of Dropsy comes down to how you interpret the game versus what you are supposed to be doing to further along the story. Some ideas, such as the woman who longs to receive flowers, are straightforward: you eventually find some flowers, give them to her, brighten her day, and now things are good. Others, like needing to find a fish to make another fish less lonely and achieve fish happiness, are a tad more convoluted, but nothing is really too obscure or obfuscated in the moment.
This is one of those graphical adventures where taking notes is sometimes helpful, like you might do with old school Lucasarts games. Doing this honestly helped me remember where things were and also at what time of day. Since there is a day to night mechanic, there are times where you’ll have to burn daylight or moonlight in order to make certain NPCs available, as well as some items that won’t show up at certain times.
Dropsy is, as a result, a game that changes significantly after your first playthrough. While most people will be satisfied with the first time around, there will be many who want to give it multiple tries. However, a lot of the “difficulty” from the first run is gone instantly with a second run. Not everything needs to be ferreted out in order to reach the ending, and knowing what is pivotal to move the plot forward, help your father, and get the circus back up and running can really be streamlined.
The Nintendo Switch version, due to Nintendo’s ecosystem, is lacking an achievement system, at least in the classic sense for most gamers. You can see a running tally of everything you’ve hugged above Dropsy’s bed (done in crayon drawings) and you can pick up cassettes for music variety (a collectible option), but you won’t be incentivized to do things that don’t affect the storyline.
Having said that, it was a really interesting and fun journey in the shoes of Dropsy. Despite the sometimes nightmarish visions that crop up as a result of the world, there was some great commentary that came from being in this role. It’s an ugly world, and an attempt to create joy or happiness can often be met with rebuffs and anger, particularly by people who don’t understand.
I had a few chuckles trying to hug people and things that clearly did not want my physical contact, but it was rewarding to engage with someone who wanted that closeness. Even if it came after I did an act of service for them, it created a wonderful sort of feedback loop: someone is sad, I help them, they feel better, I hug them, we both feel even better. It’s a bizarre mechanic, to be sure, but it worked really well and made its way seamlessly into the gameplay. Since most other options are autoset for you (no cycling through verbs for this game), it was good to have the one major control point being to hug something.
The soundtrack for Dropsy sticks out in my mind very prominently as something both eclectic and appropriate. I’ve just had a run with a very atmospheric presence in Beacon Pines, so by contrast, Dropsy’s music was very raw and present. Instead of being immersed into a world through the music, the background notes of saxophone, drums and various other instruments almost felt like they were trying to compensate for the lack of dialogue. Since no one else spoke, the music spoke loudly, almost jarringly, and I loved it. It was such a striking moment whenever the tracks changed that I would often idle in certain places, just taking in the music as it built, swelled, looped and came back ground. Truly, it was very memorable.
The aesthetics of the game aren’t going to please everyone. If the thumbnail for Dropsy puts you off, you’re better off playing something else. The unrefined quality of nearly everything gives the game a perpetual sheen of grease, like the devs had inexplicably dropped the game in a puddle and hurriedly toweled it off with a spare T-shirt before publishing it.
For what Dropsy was to me, this was a perfect design choice. Everyone and everything is imperfect, and even the adorable children or the sweet animals have something off about them, with eyes that bulge or torsos that are slightly disproportionate. In having a caricature approach to the world, it feels like Dropsy really embodies what everyone, everywhere, actually is. That might be a bit highfalutin, but I think it’s an aspect of the game that’s not only accurate, but also why Devolver gravitated towards it in the first place.
Overall, in spite of needing to retrain my brain on how to interact with the world (it’s easier to travel without also carrying around a mouse and a dongle), Dropsy was a pleasant, interesting, if somewhat short adventure. It had heart, it had some truly gross moments, it had a horrifying cold open, and it was charming, however you can interpret that. For point-and-click enthusiasts, this is a title that should definitely be added to your library, owing to the fact that you can bang it out in an afternoon. For the rest, consider where you want to put your time and efforts, but know that an unreasonably large clown is there, smiling, ready to give you a big, damp hug.
Purposely gritty and, at times, gross, Dropsy’s graphics help to really embody the world where the game takes place. Not that it makes it any easier to look at.
By boiling down the point-and-click elements, it was significantly easier to navigate than most games with a controller. But that also means boiling down the elements.
The incredible fidelity of the soundtrack combined with the often off-beat choice of tracks lead to utter enjoyment of the score from front to back.
The puzzles balanced between clean cut and somewhat confusing, and the day/night mechanic sometimes lead to wasting time until the moment was right. I don’t think I’ll be coming back.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Dropsy is available now on PC and Nintendo Switch.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Dropsy was provided by the publisher.