Have you ever had a nightmare where you were trapped in an inert body while the world went to hell around you? Monsters rush in your direction and your limbs are about as useful as sea jellies. You try to scream as the villains gain on you, yet all you can produce are rasps and bubbles in the back of your throat? I’m not sure if that type of nightmare was the inspiration of “Octodad: The Dadliest Catch,” but I certainly think it’s a fairly sound analogy to its gameplay. And I mean that in the best possible way.
Released for PC on January 30th, 2014, “Octodad: The Dadliest Catch” is the much-awaited sequel to the celebrated college project and freeware indie game “Octodad.” You star as the protagonist Octodad, everyman, loyal father of a Norman Rockwell-esque nuclear family, and incidental octopus. Yes, you are an octopus in disguise as a man, and the entire game revolves around keeping that fact a secret from your family and neighbors. Are you on board?
The gimmick of this game alone – along with a slightly unhealthy obsession with cephalopods – was enough to intrigue me to try “Octodad,” but intentionally infuriating physics was what kept me coming back for more. You begin “Octodad” flopping and burbling about on your wedding day, desperately trying to dress and make your way down the aisle. This would be difficult enough for the average groom, I’m sure, but being an invertebrate certainly doesn’t help Octodad with the task. I’m fairly certain I accidentally slapped my wife, Scarlet, with her diamond ring, but the guests were mostly none the wiser. You see, you control your legs and your arms independently from each other via mouse and keyboard, resulting in some whacky shenanigans as you meander around the chapel. As you can imagine, your actions lack finesse at the best of times.
After this adorable introduction, the rest of the game proceeds with a series of menial chores and then – much to the terror of our lovable patriach – a trip to the local aquarium. Your task is to try to please your children, assuage your marital problems, and get through the whole ordeal unscathed and undetected by your fellow aquarium-goers. Knocking into objects and people has the consequence of raising your detection bar, which eventually causes a Game Over. Most people are fairly tolerant and ignorant of your floppy exterior, but professionals like Marine Biologists known instantly what Octodad really is, so avoiding these individuals adds a touch more difficulty to the game.
I’ll say this: “Octodad: The Dadliest Catch” is best enjoyed as a party game. I have the utmost respect for challenging games, but the physics of “Octodad,” combined with undeniably flawed camera angle control, can make this game one that you shut down in anger. Of course, you do end up starting up again five minutes later – at least if you’re as stubborn of a player as I am. These are all love-hate characteristics of any respectably difficult game. However, one aspect of the game that did genuinely draw my ire is that because “Octodad’s” physics are intentionally so unrefined, you often end up completing tasks by sheer accident. The hindrance of Octodad’s almost rubber-band like movements is only mitigated by the fact that Octodad can do some things that normals cannot, like squeeze into tight spots and jettison upward.
Because of all of these aspects to the gameplay, you’re better off to have a person to pass the controls over to when you’re irritated by a particular task in the game. Plus, you can laugh when they flop around in failure too! It also helps with the eventual repetitive nature of the game, as desperately slapping your arms – not tentacles – around the kitchen and accidentally hitting your wife to get the milk gets surprisingly played out after a while.
With that said, ‘Octodad: The Dadliest Catch’ is one of the most unique and refreshing indie games I’ve played in a while. I was charmed by the intelligent dialogue, scientifically-inclined female characters, and almost 90s cartoon aesthetic of game; I am always delighted by those oddly perceptive children in a game or show. I’m pouring one out for you, Cartoon Network. I also enjoyed how the story was told over time through flashbacks, making those at-times repetitive tasks worth plowing through. A rich, colorful, and interactive world filled with NPCs is another stand-out experience within ‘Octodad,’ though at times the constant spawning of objects can become notably taxing on the game.
Above all else, I think what tickled me the most about this game was just how relatable Octodad’s actions are. In particular, I couldn’t help but love watching Octodad fall into that stereotypical male solution of getting out of an emotional discussion with his wife by giving her armfuls of arcade toys. Ultimately, you realize that Octodad is not so different from you and me. Even if he is an utter pain to control.
A delightfully ridiculous concept, challenging gameplay, and a refreshing touch of self-awareness – as this game certainly never pretends to be more what than it is, which is to say a gimmicky game with heart – earns “Octodad: The Dadliest Catch” a solid 8/10. I’m really eager to see what the studio Young Horses, Inc. comes out with next.