- Editor's Rating
- Challenging, charming, and unique gameplay
- Funny in both mechanics and writing
- Some questionable design choices, particularly towards end game
- Occasionally misplaced camera angles
Quick TakeMechanically challenging, laugh-out-loud funny, and surprisingly resonant, Octodad: Dadliest Catch is a trip well worth stumbling through.
There are many reasons why I’d like to hug everyone involved in making this game, but I think the biggest one is because they’re just so damn earnest. In an age increasingly defined by outraged tweets and avalanches of cynicism, the group of young game makers at Chicago-based indie studio Young Horses, Inc. have made something they genuinely believe in. There is a sense of passionate wholeheartedness that runs throughout their first commercial release, Octodad: Dadliest Catch, that makes this obvious. Its game shows a consistent appreciation of the simple joys of life — a recognition that even if everything sucks, you can still find happiness being who you are today, where you are today. Life is good, man, even if you’re an octopus who wants to be a human.
Let’s get the formalities out of the way. Octodad: Dadliest Catch is a third-person action game, I guess, that puts you in the shoes of the titular Octodad (although he isn’t outright given a specific name), who is an octopus disguised as a human. There are no caveats to that description; he’s just an octopus disguised as a human. And almost nobody else realizes it.
After a quick prelude for his mostly unremarkable wedding, Dadliest Catch drops you into an ordinary day in Octodad’s life. It’s serene, but not what you’d call exciting. He wears a blue three-piece suit. He drinks his coffee to wake up in the morning. He mows his lawn, grills burgers, goes grocery shopping, and takes his family to the aquarium. He has a wife, Scarlet, and two adorable kids, Tommy and Stacy. He loves them, and they love him back. He’s a wholly sincere and likable guy.
He’s also an octopus. And although he’s done a good job at reducing their obviousness, he has all the problems moving and performing basic functions that you’d expect an octopus to have. His arms and legs move like they’re made of jelly, because he has no bones. He can’t speak, instead communicating in various “blubs” with different tonal inflections. (The subtitles lead to a chunk of the game’s humor – when Scarlet asks him to get Stacy some milk, for instance, Octodad responds with “*a reassuring if harried blub*.” Cute.) He’s deathly afraid of aquariums and marine biologists. He’s tormented by an Eastern European chef that’s wise to his façade and wants to turn him into “medium-grade sushi.” Such is the life of a stealth octopus.
And so, Dadliest Catch tasks you with simply being Octodad for a day. That’s your game. There are some twists and surprises that ramp up the action towards the end, but for the most part, the light, four-hour narrative asks to do many completely believable things with a completely unbelievable character. You weed your garden, get your kids breakfast, avoid that pesky chef, and just try to get by the best you can. Somehow, this story about an octopus in a suit is one of the most human titles in recent memory. A big chunk of the game takes place in that aquarium, for instance, and in one section you walk your daughter through a jellyfish exhibit. Who even dares to do that anymore? It’s refreshing.
On paper, controlling Octodad is simple. You move our hero one limb at a time, through both an “arms mode” and a “legs mode.” The latter is your default – press down on the right mouse button and you’ll make his right leg stride, press on the left button and you’ll do the same to his left one. You move the mouse while pressing these buttons to give him forward momentum. Hit the scroll wheel and you’ll switch to his arms, and again, the right button controls the right arm, the left one controls the left one. You become stationary here, but you can move his arms up and down using the scroll wheel. Just about everything is mapped to the mouse, so you could theoretically play the entire game with one hand.
But good god, can this get frustrating — and purposefully so. Octodad is boneless, remember, so he moves like a drunken dog in the back of moving van. His limbs float unpredictably; you never really “control” him so much as you try to keep him from flopping over everything in sight. Think of it like a 3D, third-person version of QWOP. It’s the polar opposite of a power fantasy; it takes away your most basic of functions and forces you to learn them all over again. Again, refreshing.
This makes doing those aforementioned tasks a real challenge, though, despite their general banality. And on top of all this, you have to remember that Octodad is trying to keep his true nature a secret. To that end, you’re given a suspicion meter that fills the more other people see you knocking things over and flailing like a weirdo. Fill it all the way and it’s game over.
But simply moving is the real game here, and since its challenge is at the core of the whole experience, Dadliest Catch never lets go of your attention. There’s a certain sense of strategy to playing it: are you the kind of guy who takes long, sweeping strides when you walk, or do you prefer making quick jab steps in rapid succession? (If you’re like me, you spin around like an idiot until you manage to be in the right direction.) It doesn’t seem like it at first blush, but this is the kind of game that could make way for many speed run videos on YouTube.
(Side note: While we’re on the topic of potential replay value, I’ll mention that Dadliest Catch does have a local co-op mode in which up to 4 people each control one of Octodad’s arms/legs, as well as a ‘Workshop’ mode in which you can create your own playgrounds using Young Horses’ level editing tool. I was unable to test either of these during the game’s pre-launch period, but I’d assume they’ll be madness. There are a bunch of collectibles to nab in each level too, if you’re into that sort of thing.)
There’s an art to this, even if it’s more of an avant-garde sort of thing. And because there’s such a simple, comedic joy to watching Octodad slapstick his way around, the control mechanics here have the rare ability to reward you when you finally hold it together long enough to complete an objective, yet still amuse you when you fail at it completely. It’s like Dark Souls in that way. That’s a tough balance to pull off, but Young Horses manages to have it both ways for much of the game.