Developer: Young Horses
Publisher: Young Horses
Reviewed on: PC
Also Available On: Linux, Mac, PlayStation 4
Release Date: Out Now/March 2014 on PS4
The first thing you will notice about Octodad: Dadliest Catch is that it is terribly silly. This is certainly not a criticism, it is simply a remark about the overall tone of the game. It goes well beyond tongue-in-cheek humour and revels in an altogether more absurdist world, ever joyful and innocent, backed up by the jolly frivolity of its soundtrack. You play as the titular Octodad, a loving husband and father who just so happens to be a cephalopod in a suit. For some reason no-one in this otherwise normal (if a little romanticised) human world notices this and it is your job to keep it this way.
Unfortunately the second you start to move you realise this might be harder than it sounds, as you are still very much an octopus and standing up, much less walking or using tools is incredibly difficult. To move (using Xbox 360 controler) you must press the trigger corresponding to your right or left leg. You then combine this with the left analog stick and are able to move your leg in almost any direction. When you let go the foot remains there, and you repeat the process with the other leg causing walking in a manner reminiscent of QWOP, albeit slightly smoother and faster. Similarly you can the right analog stick to move your arm, and RB to pick up and release objects with your suckers. Furthermore your life bar is ingeniously reimagined as a suspicion bar, whereby a little is added every time you do something decidedly inhuman while someone is watching, such as knock over a vase or slap a small child. This is a great mechanic as it adds a level of difficulty to the game, as well as reflects the overarching story without feeling too cheap (most of the time).
These mechanics sound complex and they are, but the game does an excellent job of slowly introducing them to you in a non-contrived manner. The first level ‘tutorial’ does just this, but features Octodad on his wedding day, and has as much polish as the other levels and even a few secrets. Once you get used to the controls Octodad becomes a surreal yet fascinating puzzle game, wherein you are given more and more complex challenges to overcome, whether it be climbing a adventure park for your son, or attempting to accurately get a basket in basketball to win your wife a gift. Each of these puzzles would be child’s play in any other game, but with the limitations of being an octopus they become difficult challenges indeed and there is a real sense of achievement when you overcome them. Indeed the level design is perhaps the games strongest point, with a myriad of interesting and colourful levels carefully made with puzzles tied directly to the games unique controls. The designers clearly understood their game extremely well.
For as unique and compelling as the mechanics are, they can also be frustrating at times and really take you out of the experience. Walking up ladders is of particular annoyance, as the lack of a sucker ability often results in lifting one leg up only to find that the other foot has fallen down again. When you combine this with stealth sections and the suspicion bar it can really be a pain. For the most part however, the mechanics are a joy, and well worth experiencing for the sheer hilarity that ensues when you attempt even the most basic of tasks. Adding a second player into the mix allows for you to each control some of Octodad’s limbs and multiplies said hilarity many times over. The game is definitely best experienced with friends.
Humour is not only present in movement, but in every facet of the game. Dilogue often contains subtle or sarcastic jokes which mostly land on target. Of particular note is Octodad himself, who talks in subtitled blubs (because he is an Octopus). There are also some clever background references to, among other things, My Little Pony and The Stanley Parable, which are a nice touch and never intrusive like so many other references are these days.
The story meanwhile, is where most of the creativity vanished. It can be summarised in one sentence as: you are secretly an octopus, a chef knows you are an octopus and attempts to show your family. I am not one to rag on a game for length alone (see my Stanley Parable Review), but while that game’s 30 minute story was intriguing and had added depth with each playthrough, Octodad‘s is about as cliché as they come. If you take out the fact that he is an octopus it is just like any other comedy where a character has a secret and the antagonist simply wants everyone to know it. The simplicity of the story means that the plot points become as mundane as: a chef bursting in on you and running away.
I will admit that there is a subtlety in the interaction between Octodad and his wife which is to be praised, as undertones of unhappiness and frustration in their relationship is effectively conveyed, but for the most part the simplicity of the story forces the characters into being one-note and incredibly un-engaging for it. This is a shame because the narrative has potential but its sweet moral message about it not mattering what you are, just who you are, is marred by the contrivances by which it is established. Other critics have praised the mechanics for being metaphors for the many times in life in which we try are hardest and yet struggle with tasks, and while this is true to a certain extent, without the story focus to back it up I feel it falls far short of its potential. Certainly there was room for something better. [tabgroup][tab title=”The Good“]Completely unique and interesting mechanics.
Enjoyable humour and wonderfully silly tone throughout.
Excellently and intelligently designed levels.
[/tab][tab title=”The Bad“]Complex mechanics sometimes become an annoyance.
Uninspired story and characters are difficult to become invested in.
A little too short.