With their debut title Dap, Melting Parrot has given me a neurotic new pastime: trying to stay cool in the midst of intense, sinister weirdness. The 2D action-adventure is a haunting little gem that goes light on exposition and heavy on existential horror—a peculiar experience that deserves to stand on its own merits, far from throwaway creative comparisons to Studio Ghibli or Dark Souls.
The basics are simple: you’re a plucky little dap tasked with shepherding your fellow daps to safety through a poisoned forest bristling with danger. The game’s obscure mythology is part of its charm: there’s an ominous reaper-like entity, a deer-skull god who needs your help, and the cleansing power of fire (a quasi-Promethean touch), which staves off a mysterious zombifying disease. There are tiered planes of existence, including one where you can replant critical parts of a meta-forest with resources that you collect from the world “below.”
New daps are gathered from huge plants that resemble the parasitic rafflesia flower family, a massive species known for its distinctive rotten-meat stench that attracts pollinating insects. One might think that collecting more daps is better, but it’s a double-edged sword—more daps give you more ranged firepower, but it also means that when you enter an afflicted zone, you have to worry about more daps potentially turning into diseased, brainwormed enemies.
The daps themselves also evolved and took on new roles as I shepherded them around—for instance, I hit a lot of them by accident (which prompts them to produce a childlike “dap?”) and immediately felt bad. In turn I thought of them as helpless babies, mindless drones, and a swarmlike extension of the player-controlled dap.
Agility and paranoia
After a few hours in, gameplay settled into a practiced rhythm that rewards quick reflexes and smart timing, but it’s Dap’s compelling balance of paranoia and the atmospheric aesthetics that kept me going. Besides a feeble light radius, all I had was a vaguely peripheral sense of where my next enemies would spring from, with clues from glitchy sound effects and fleeting glimpses of ghosts. Aside from a few sections that play around with magnification/zoom and tighter frames to reduce visibility, and a few simple cut-scenes, every new stage is a variation of this base recipe.
This isn’t to say Dap is a breeze—it’s actually tough, but probably a delight for old-school Pikmin players looking for a similar vibe. Enemies hit hard, you might not be able to fire off enough ranged shots to nuke them in time, and your horde of dap followers can be pretty distracting, especially if they start to self-destruct. More than once, I became too focused on conserving my fire-building resources or crafting potions for survival, and ended up wandering around aimlessly (there’s no map or map overlay); it’s easy to get momentarily turned around after a spurt of frantic dashing and evasion.
The Dap experience is intuitive, save for a couple of moves that were easier to immediately pull off with a gamepad instead of the keyboard. But after a few hours, things started to hit a wall—my pleasantly self-induced sense of paranoia gave way to frustration and monotony as I dashed around trying to advance the game. It all came back to the reflexes; if you’re not particularly adept at hair-trigger reflexes, getting through Dap can be frustrating, which harshes the lovely dark mood of its environment. Even while the gorgeous alien botany is alluring and forms the artistic backbone of this curious little game, I found myself wanting more options—perhaps a narrative mode for players focused on the world and its strange inhabitants—and a change of pace.