Thankfully, though, Young Horses recognizes that its setup is deliberately obtuse. It gives you plenty of leeway when you’re trying to complete specific movements; so if you’re supposed to pour some coffee in your mug, you need only get it within the general vicinity of your cup. The same goes for the suspicion meter, as you’ll need to cause quite a stir on standard settings to fail. This is a good thing, as it lets you keep some sense of sanity in your struggle to get Octodad from point A to point B smoothly.
But sometimes, the gentle frustration you’re meant to feel here turns into annoyance. The last quarter of the game is particularly tedious – not only does it fall victim to the hackneyed multi-stage final boss fight, but it also throws you into a number of ham-fisted stealth sections that simply don’t work well with this control setup.
It’s one thing to ask players to do something straightforward, since the challenge here is inherent with the way movement is designed. It’s another, much more aggravating thing to give them other complex tasks on top of doing something that’s already difficult (i.e., moving Octodad around). It’s too much sometimes. Young Horses seems to want to “gamify” Dadliest Catch with more traditional action sequences as it reaches its climax, but this is a game where walking in a straight line is nigh impossible, so the word “traditional” shouldn’t apply to it all.
Dadliest Catch works best when Young Horses just lets things flow, allowing the naturally ridiculous interplay between the game’s direct commands and Octodad’s anything-but-direct movements to make your belly ache. When what you’re asked to do gets trickier, that chemistry gets muddled, and the whole experience suffers. The joke wears off, and all of a sudden you’re just playing a maddeningly difficult adventure game. Now, some of these more actiony moments are truly nerve-wracking – a bit in which you tightrope walk your way across the rafters of a burning room had my fingers in a sweat, among others – but by your 50th attempt at crossing a rain-slicked boat without being seen by the half-dozen fishermen directly in front of you, you’ll start to feel like you’re being trolled, not goofed with.
The other concern of note is the camera. Since all of your basic movements are tied to the mouse, Dadliest Catch uses fixed camera angles for each scene. This isn’t an issue most of the time, but as the action starts to heat up, there are a couple of instances where you’re blocked from seeing what’s ahead of you in a timely manner. Simply put, it could use a little touching up.
Despite all that, there are still plenty of reasons to love Dadliest Catch. Its premise alone is simultaneously one of the goofiest and most charming to come along in a long while. Losing control of Octodad and watching him flail about is always cute and chuckle-worthy. The game is very funny in general, with NPCs spouting clever one-liners as you pass by, but it never gets mean-spirited or disparaging. It’s called Dadliest Catch. There’s just a cheery vibe here, from the opening credits to the pause menu music to the colorful, cartoonish art style. It makes the game welcoming to just about anyone, despite its occasionally masochistic tendencies. It’s infectious.
And yet, it’s also oddly tender. Dadliest Catch never forces its Message onto you, but it’s a thoughtful one anyway. We’ve all felt like an Octodad at some point. We’re all imperfect people just trying to deal with the difficulty of being. We’ve all felt the strain of life, the shock of realizing what we’ll never be, and the messiness of trudging forward anyway. This is Octodad’s entire existence; he’s a tragic character in that sense. But he keeps on moving, as sloppy as he may be, despite failure after failure after frustrating failure, because he has people he cares for, and people who care for him back. We do the same. And then we all do an accidental somersault and knock over a stack of soda cans, and we can’t help but giggle at this whole adventure we’re going through.
This review is based on a retail Steam code provided to NotebookReview by Young Horses. Octodad: Dadliest Catch is available now through Steam on Windows, Mac and Linux.