Platforms: PC, PS4
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Young Horses
Published By: Young Horses
Multiplayer: Local co-op for 2-4 players
This promotional copy was provided free of charge by Young Horses for review purposes.
Octodad is the simple story of a man trying to just live his life, balancing being a loving husband with work and looking after the children. He mows the lawn, cooks the burgers, goes shopping for groceries, gives his little girl a cup of milk in the morning and generally tries to tackle each day as it comes. He’s an everyday man. Did I mention he’s an octopus? He’s an octopus. That’s kind of important.
Over the years games have thrown out some pretty barmy situations, the kind that could only ever be gotten away by using the magical laws of videogame logic, which essentially state that anything can go. In this case an octopus has seemingly managed to fool everyone, including his wife, into believing he’s a regular human. Hell, he has even managed to have two children, which I’m going to assume, for reasons of my mental health, were either adopted or created via artificial insemination, otherwise images of Japan’s fascination with hentai and tentacles begin to appear in my mind.
The developer himself has hinted that this game is just one metaphor for how we really don’t tend to look around and take note of our surroundings, albeit an incredibly stretched metaphor, one that’s possibly in need of medical aid by this point. Yet as a rather cynical human being I can’t help but see darker flashes: if everyone really sees this squidgy thing as a human, what are their eyes telling them? This strange man galivants around the house, accidentally smacking wife and children alike with his clumsy attempts to do even the most basic tasks. He swings the lawnmower around like an instrument of death, accidently pours hot coffee all over his wife’s face, crashes into furniture and struggles to convey simply messages. Perhaps they take him for a drunken abuser, or some sort of crack addict. The benign, almost creepy cheerfulness of the wife and kids nothing more than a disturbing mark of a family trapped in an endless cycle of violence.
Or maybe it’s an octopus in a suit, and I’m reading far too much into this.
Regardless chaos ensues thanks to the use of a deliberately obtuse control scheme which tasks you with commanding each tentacled limb individually. To propel yourself forward, for example, you must raise one tentacle at a time, wrestle it into position, bring it down and so on, while the “hands” and sucker action are also controlled in such a fashion. Even walking around is a challenge. Combine this with a fantastic physics engine and you’ve got a recipe for hilarity as you blindly flop around the levels, your legs stretching across the screen in an obscene imitation of humans, your body and limbs usually spiralling quickly out of control, those usually so able gaming fingers failing to keep up.
It’s a game based played, in my experience, with an Xbox 360 controller firmly plugged into a USB slot. The triggers control each leg while pressing A lets you grab onto things, with the sticks controlling your general direction of movement. Using this method of control the game then tasks you with a series of seemingly everyday tasks like getting your morning coffee or mowing the lawn, all complicated by your inability to even open doors without catastrophe occurring.
Concessions are made, though, and rightfully so, because without them the game could quickly fall from being fun to downright frustrating as your seemingly straightforward objectives became little more than torture. Take chopping wood, for example: simply get the log you want to chop fairly close to the stump and the game will automatically flip it the right way up and place it, ensuring you don’t have to spend another few minutes fumbling with the keyboard or controller. It’s clear that the developers completely understand that with a game like this they’re walking on a tightrope covered in butter, and the helping hand they give player’s is just enough.
It’s a little sad, then, that they fall off their precarious tightrope in much of the second half of the game. Octodad can be completed in around two or three hours, and the first half of that playtime is spent blissfully flailing about in typical domestic situations where the contrast between everyday life and octopus is at its comedy best. A suspicion meter resides at the bottom the screen, but it’s so incredibly generous that it feels almost pointless. Even when crashing into just about everything the meter barely registers a change, and honestly that’s a good thing as it allows the player to focus on simply enjoying the spectacle. With simple goals at hand it’s easy to enjoy the mayhem that comes from attempting to control Octodad, but later in the game more situations are introduced where precision and speed are required, and here the game falls apart, that suspicion meter suddenly becoming a dangerous adversary. Those wonderfully messy controls become a chore when pressure is added into the equation, tipping the game into the realms of frustration as you attempt to pass through areas undetected or battle a boss. Sneaking past a shipload of people or some marine biologists simply isn’t all that fun because you have to curtail the very thing which is Octodad’s primary selling point: mayhem.
One could certainly make the argument that attempting to master the devious controls and attain a degree of precision is a worthwhile game goal, and that’s a view which holds indisputable weight, albeit it not an opinion that I can share in. Some player’s will doubtless take satisfaction from mastering the controls and sneaking through areas undetected, but for me this then renders the game as nothing more than a stealth title with daft controls. It’s the joy of bumbling through everyday tasks and causing carnage where Octodad is, in my view, at its very, very best. I found more pleasure from hunting down a frozen pizza in a store than I did battling a crazed sushi chef who plagues Octodad’s life.
Octodad is also a game that you’re either going to love or utterly hate, and I’m not of a mind to even begin to try to guess which it would be. Normally I can pinpoint whether a friend or fellow gamer will like a certain title, but in this instance there’s only one warning I can provide: if you’re short on patience, just forget Octodad and move on. It’ll kill you. You’ll either find the bumbling antics hilarious, or you’ll find yourself cursing the Gods for putting you in such a daft situation.
I’d also hazard that even if you love the insanity of it all, by time the game is coming to a close you’ll likely be tiring. As gimmicks go watching an octopus attempt to navigate the rigors of everyday life is a brilliant one, but it’s the kind of gimmick that’s absurdly funny for a while until you hit a certain point where it just stops being amusing. In this regard the game’s relatively short length is perfectly judged, because just as watching a tentacle slap someone in the face was losing its luster the game finished.
In a rather surprising turn of events Octodad even manages to tell a rather heart-warming tale of family and love. Make no mistake it’s not a wonderfully written masterpiece with witty dialogue and voice-acting deserving of awards, but the characters and visual style of the game is so endearing that it’s nearly impossible not to root for the tentacled father and his brood of…well, whatever they are. The game’s script knows its stupid, and firmly takes advantage of that fact.
Octodad doesn’t exactly push the boundaries of what is possible with the current technology available, featuring fairly basic textures and models, but it has a clean, simple cartoon look that works perfectly in conjunction with the mental physics engine. To put it very simply, it’s a nice looking game.
Special mention must also be given to the brilliant burbles that emanate from the mouth of Octodad, whether they be because of his stumbling over something or by way of harried explanation to his kids, I couldn’t help but grin every time the game provided a vague subtitle explaining what his watery vocals were saying. Combined with Octodad’s “moustache” it just adds this magnetic personality to the suit-wearing cephalopod
Camera problems do make their presence felt at times. Due to the nature of the convoluted control scheme there’s no way of operating the camera yourself, so you must leave it to the sometimes cruel whims of the developers. It’s not terrible, but there were a few sections where the camera placement was jarring, working in tandem with the controls to rip away some of my enjoyment.
Worth mentioning is that Octodad supports the Steam Workshop and there’s already a thriving community tossing together all-manner of wacky stuff for you to try out, increasing the game’s limited lifespan. On top of that there’s a co-op mode for up to four people where you all take control of different limbs and attempt to complete the levels, a game mode that naturally suits itself to getting some beer in and friends round.
It’s bloody hard not to like Octodad: Dadliest Catch. I mean, it’s about an octopus in a suit trying to act like a human, and the absurdity that results is pure slapstick genius. What isn’t to like? Well, as I’ve said it does make a couple of slip-ups along the way, the primary of those being the need to feel like a more traditional game using stealth sections and a really dull boss battle at the end. In a longer game these moments perhaps wouldn’t have stood out in my mind so much, but in a title that lasts just 3-hours they stick out like a sore thumb.
A funny little diversion filled with charm, and in a world of brown shooters it’s a wonderful reminder that game’s can be just about anything, including a suit-wearing cephalopod that may or may not be viewed by the rest of the world as a drunken, fumbling mad-man with a serious speech impediment.
+ Flailing limbs everywhere!
+ Revels in its own madness!
+ Utterly charming.
– Duff stealth sections feel forced.
– The camera.
The Verdict: 3/5 – Good
Look, it’s an octopus in a suit. That simple sentence alone should be all you need to justify buying the game. But if it isn’t then let this know: it’s slapstick brilliance held back by a few key flaws, but certainly worth your time.