Indie developer Jay Tholen, backed by the highly praised publisher Devolver Digital, created an acid-soaked fever dream of a point-and-click adventure featuring the altogether lovable, if not terrifying, Dropsy the Clown. Dropsy appears as the logical conclusion to the now all too familiar trippy-pixel art style, displaying a dismal city through the eyes of an innocent clown. Traditional standard english text is replaced with uncanny alternatives, spelling words that the player may interpret as something from an alien race, and speech is replaced with symbols – the only sound to be heard is a distant fragmented droning. Needless to say that the misinterpreted world of Dropsy the Clown drew me in from the get-go.

Dropsy juxtaposes the characteristics of a traditional friendly children’s entertainer with total isolation – as the classic, creepy local clown people don’t seem to take to him too well. Nevertheless, the player can nudge Dropsy along the road to social redemption, hugging strangers in need and helping residents of the town until he’s in their favour. Part of the challenge in Dropsy is figuring out what residents demand of the carefree clown, since speech and text is replaced with symbols and pictures. However, before long I found myself alarmingly fluent in Dropsy’s dialect, deriving tips and clues for later in-game puzzles with relative ease – also handily eliminating a lot of localization work on behalf of Devolver Digital.

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Puzzles in Dropsy usually consist of retrieving an item and delivering it to it’s predestined home – for example, giving an unhappy resident that wants a record a record. Usually, I would happily pan this as being somewhat lazy – demanding the player to run around haplessly looking for the classic figurative key for the classic figurative door. However, in Dropsy completing these fetch-quests is no a chore, in fact each instance of exploration enriched me with a greater understanding of Dropsy’s town, his reputation, the locals and the clown himself.

One of the most salient features in Dropsy is exploitation of the uncanny. Dropsy’s world appears as one loosely based on our own – re-imagined for the purpose of representing it as a simplified archetype of what the player would consider reality (text replaced with vague scribbles, spoken word replaced with vaguely reminiscent 8-bit drones). However, as Dropsy sleeps, the player is whisked away to a dream-plane, where all the previously familiar aspects of reality are mixed with that of Dropsy’s imagination. Occasionally, his dreams will appear as joyful, sometimes as horrific, but will always end with a gaping mouth in the earth swallowing the poor clown whole. The unpredictability of Dropsy’s disposition renders the world entirely dynamic, the player unsure what to expect as they traverse the diverse environments.

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Jay Tholen made a point to design Dropsy as an open world adventure – where players “can piece the puzzles and stories together as they choose.” This works wholly in the game’s favour, allowing the player to dig up the totally ambiguous and intriguing tale of Dropsy the Clown their own way, without having their hand held by the game. Dropsy has earned the right to shift some responsibility to the player through its diverse and emotionally investing narrative.

My main criticisms for the game lie in that of most point-and-click adventures. My finger perpetually aches as I click continuously on the right side of the screen for dropsy to walk along the scrolling environment, and sometimes it isn’t entirely obvious what items are and aren’t interactive without scrolling your cursor across the screen until a prompt for interaction appears. Nevertheless, Dropsy renders these complaints as tiny nit-picking comments in the face of the otherwise great product.

Dropsy is a game where the player explores a hostile world through the eyes of innocence – a form of innocence that just so happens to appear as a terrifying clown. Often fun, sometimes emotional and occasionally terrifying, Dropsy is a game that I cannot help but recommend to all those looking for an enjoyable and original narrative-driven adventure.