Nobody suspects a thing
Your wedding day is probably one of the most nerve-wracking days of a person’s life. It could turn anyone’s legs to jelly, and finally we have a game that captures those nerves perfectly. What if I trip? What if I knock over these precarious vases? What if my guests realise I’m actually an octopus?
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is a game about family, first and foremost, so it’s apt to open it with the challenge of walking down the aisle. But that challenge is a little more literal than you might expect: Octodad is (SPOILER ALERT) actually an octopus in a comically-unconvincing costume, so the simple act of placing one foot-tentacle in front of the other involves wide arcs, broken furniture, a deliberately-complicated control scheme and plenty of laughs.
In most games, walking is a single button. You don’t have to think about it. Moving Octodad is a hilariously painful ordeal: you select his left or right leg by holding the corresponding mouse button, then push the mouse in the desired direction. That’s leg mode. To pick stuff up, press space to swap to arm mode, where the mouse controls his flailing arm tentacle, and holding right click moves it forward and backward. Left click will grab or drop an item.
it’s an absolute gem to share... Octodad is a party game in disguise, and is ten times more fun with friends
Okay, did you get all that? No? Well, don’t worry, the tutorial is excellent. The wedding flashback gradually introduces everything as Octodad gets suited up and makes his way to the chapel and his waiting wife-to-be. It’s the perfect way to open the game, both narratively and mechanically.
Struggling to perform basic everyday tasks is what gives the character his charm, and the game revels in its slapstick silliness. Early on, I had to pour my daughter a glass of milk – a simple job for creatures with bones. With flailing tentacles making it impossible to judge position, I whacked the girl in the head with the bottle, knocking her flat on her butt – but although most of the milk ended up on the floor, she was satisfied that by chance I’d spilled enough into her glass. She thanked me, apparently used to her father’s lack of motor skills.
It’s cartoony comedy, sure, but comedy on a mechanical level is something that’s very hard for games to pull off. And on top of that, it manages to stay funny conceptually (an octopus! In a suit!) and superficially, by which I mean the dialogue is peppered with jokes, and the environments – especially the supermarket level – are teeming with Easter egg references to Octodad’s indie game peers.
But, there’s a (Dadliest) catch. After a while, the game suffers the same problem I found Surgeon Simulator 2013 had – eventually the novelty wears off, and the controls become genuinely frustrating.
Early in the game, I lost it (ie, laughing) trying to mow the lawn. Later, I lost it (ie, my temper) when forced to walk up the down escalators.
For me, the real turning point was in the aquarium’s arcade, where you try to win seven sideshow games. It turns out, shooting hoops and playing air hockey as Octodad is skewed to the wrong side of the fun-to-frustration ratio.
Maybe because I was already somewhat disappointed, but it was around then that the game’s lack of polish became more obvious. Sometimes it felt like an equally boneless creature was moving the camera. Characters like the sushi chef and the shark aren’t animated for key events like catching you. The death screen sounds just awful. And at several points I had to reload the last checkpoint, when it wouldn’t register that I’d completed tasks. It all feels naggingly unfinished.
But Octodad has one massive redeeming feature: it’s an absolute gem to share. The game is ripe for Let’s Play videos, or to have people watch over your shoulder, and suddenly single player just seems as sad as playing Mario Party alone. Octodad is a party game in disguise, and is ten times more fun with friends.
Even better than watching is to have them grab a tentacle themselves in co-op mode. In a virtual three-legged race, two players attempt to coordinate movements of the one character, with results far more hilarious than any solo session. You can set who controls which limbs, or have it randomise after each task – and that there is the ultimate Octodad experience.
The central mechanic of Octodad: Dadliest Catch shows such promise during the brilliant first few acts, but it’s a bit of a shame that it struggles to sustain that fun, even with a modest running time. The roughness of the project doesn’t do it any favours, either.
But, while the slapstick antics lose their impact somewhat quickly playing solo, the game truly shines with an audience or, better yet, a second player.