Down in the Dumps by Haiku Studios can be described in one word: insane. And not in the way 90s kids used it in a misguided attempt to look cool. I'm talking actual mouth-blubbering insanity here.
The game begins with a fast-paced CGI cut-scene where the Blubs - the universe's most annoying and trashy family - crash their spaceship into one of Earth's many garbage dumps (known as rubbish tips in my land). There are three generations of the Blub family, yet each are inexplicably not given a name. They are simply known as Grandma and Grandpa Blub, Mr. and Mrs. Blub and their children: Son and Daughter. You'll control each of them at some point over the four chapters (and a hidden fifth) along with their dog-like creature referred to as simply The Pet. If you bother to read the manual, he's the only one given an actual name (Stinky) but it's not referenced at all in the game.
After some unintelligible bickering, it becomes clear that the only way to escape our planet is to find some missing pieces of the ship. But there are many forces not on your side, namely a group of nefarious alien bandits and some anthropomorphic life on Earth. You first play as Son, a sarcastic little brat who loves to torture Stinky any way he can (or maybe I as the player should take the onus for that one). The villain of this segment is a gangster rat who can be defeated by the power of a conveniently discarded magic remote control. It can control the speed of which the rodent zooms around the place. Who knew a simple remote could do such a thing? And why would anybody want to throw it away? Needless to say, this game is stuffed with moon logic.
Everything about this game has been designed around a shockingly poor sense of humour. It's as if someone thought it would be funny to speed up a rat so a puzzle was created to accomodate it. You also have the ability to torture your pet in 'hilarious' fashion. Most inventory items can be used on for such as tar and feathers, but the most disturbing is the cigarette. If you stub this out on your companion it that causes visible pain. Why? Because comedy. It's animated well so it has that going for it. One might even say it's aiming for the Looney Tunes school of slapstick but the semi-realistic setting and CG design is vastly at odds with it.
The design as a whole is a double-edged sword too. You can tell a lot of time and effort has gone into the computer generated imagery which is filled with some great animations and transitions. But the main characters are so damn ugly you wonder if it was worth it. Add to that the permanently erect nipples of the family's older female members and it borders on disturbing. Surprisingly, the dump itself is very inviting. It is colourful and filled with an array of items which could be used inventively. It's a pity most of those objects will not be needed at all, except perhaps as a canine torture device.
The puzzles are mostly inventory based but their solutions are far from obvious. Without a walkthrough, the only conceivable way to solve them would be to use every object on everything. Add to that an arsenal of red herrings and it becomes more annoying than enjoyable. On the plus side, there's no pixel hunting, sliding puzzles or dreaded mazes to add to the frustration, but there are a couple of ill-conceived mini-games to break up the gameplay along with your mind.
Back in 1997 Down in the Dumps bombed. It performed so badly that the newly-formed developer closed its doors shortly afterwards leaving two unfinished games abandoned (a racing game and intriguingly a title based on The Island of Dr. Moreau). Did this French company deserve this? I would honestly say no. While the content is questionable, the technical feats are admirable. In fact some of the tech was used in Cryo's popular MegaRace series.
A couple of hours in, something strange happened. I began to enjoy myself. Objectively there's a lot wrong with this game but the strangeness of it all seeped into my psyche and I began to be fully invested with saving the Blub family. I began to attempt each puzzle with a determination to solve it on my own. I began to look forward to what will happen next after I succumbed to the walkthrough each and every time. I even chuckled a little before checking to see no one saw. This game truly is insane, and it's catching.
The experience is somewhat similar to watching an obscure European animated film that somehow lucked out with an English dub. The comedy doesn't translate too well leaving you a little dumbfounded by its existence, but still somehow perversely entertained. Bring on the shrinks.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox to bring the game to modern systems. Manual included. Tested on Windows 10.
Down in the Dumps is © Haiku Studios
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me