Oftentimes, the twisting of expectations is a storytelling element that can offer a punch to something familiar or a dose of irony to throw the audience off-kilter. In horror stories, for example, it is a common tactic to take something that is cute or innocent and twist it into something malevolent and creepy. Nothing shines more for this tactic than the clown. Traditionally a fun-loving figure associated with the circus, plenty of horror stories present clowns that are horrifying monsters or depraved killers. Of course, sometimes a twist can go on for so long that it is more shocking to play it straight. These days, the idea of a non-ironic clown is a far rarer find instead of the monster clown that pops up like clockwork. Perhaps the strongest punch, then, might be to capture a flavor of both versions. That is part of the charm in an indie adventure game known as Dropsy. Within the confines of its world and gameplay, it plays around with a sweet sentimental nature and bursts of the morbid, walking a tightrope that is exemplified by the game’s main character.
Dropsy is a clown who once had a carefree life at the circus, living with his father and acrobat mother. However, all of that changed with a mysterious fire. A horrifying blaze had brought tragedy to the circus, killing several people including Dropsy’s mom. Most of the town near this circus came to blame Dropsy for the fire. After all, he does not look like a normal person to them. His grin lacks several teeth, his arms are floppy limbs that lack hands, and he does not even seem to speak. For most, they just saw him as a monster. As the years go by, Dropsy and his father still live in the ruined remains of the burnt-out circus. He spends his days helping out his father and taking on tasks to assist him. As he does this, he sees the misery and sadness in the people around him. However, even as they hate and fear him, he still remains positive and loving. In fact, he even starts helping them out with their problems. Thus, even if the world may seem bleak, Dropsy will be there to bring some smiles to those who are feeling down. Who knows? Maybe as he helps others, he might just find out who really caused that circus tent fire all those years ago.
As a newer entry to the genre of adventure games, Dropsy makes for a charming new addition. The core gameplay is very familiar for those who have played point-and-click adventure games. As you go around, you can pick up items that are stored in Dropsy’s inventory. These items can then be used to solve puzzles or challenges that must be faced. However, there are some interesting elements that stray from the normal path. For instance, most adventure games tend to have a specific path that the characters goes through. Here, it is an open world, free for the player to explore as they help out others and solve their problems. Also, most adventure games thrive on text, letting the story flow with its dialogue. Instead, there is no text here. Characters speak in symbols that the player will have to decipher. Even the options menu lacks text, using symbols to get meaning across. By relying on symbols instead of text, it forces the player to better understand the other characters and figure out just how they can help you. It also helps to better feel Dropsy’s own seeming lack of understanding in the world. This brings me then to the biggest point of the game: its balancing act between creepy and heartwarming.
A sense of the morbid is present throughout the game. Dropsy’s uncanny valley design would fit in among plenty of monster clowns, and the twists and turns of the game’s plot can bring some real menace and nightmarish imagery. However, the heart of the game is not in horror. Instead, it rests in a more innocent nature. For as creepy as Dropsy may look, he is no threat. He really only cares to help others, a cheery smile on his face as he aids them however he can. Even when the moment would seem like a reasonable one for him to fight, he does not. In fact, this game offers one action that not many games feature: a hug action. It is an action that rather sums up the core spirit of this game. Dropsy goes to help the world around him, but he does not do so by fighting or combat. Rather, he simply seeks to find the things that can help to cheer someone up or brighten their day. It is a warm and kind spirit that lurks within the creepy shell here, the result being that its optimistic heart shines brighter in contrast to the darkness surrounding it.
The choice to play a trope straight or to twist it is one that can offer plenty of possibilities for telling a story, such as in taking the innocent and presenting it as menacing. In Dropsy, it instead offers a heartwarming game that balances its hopeful core against creepy imagery, allowing both parts to be stronger rather than just being dependent on one particular method.