Wot I Think – Octodad: Dadliest Catch

By Nathan Grayson on February 2nd, 2014 at 11:00 am.

Octodad: Dadliest Catch has been a long time in coming. We first spent a whopping zero (s)quid on the original  freeware version back in 2010, And Octodad 2, as it was known back in ye olde pre-Double-Fine-Adventure days, took Kickstarter by (relative) storm in 2011. So here we are in 2014, and the second coming of the heart-stealing, identity-thieving octo-man/myth/legend is upon us. But is his flailing, frequently failing return worth the wait? Can what basically amounts to a single joke sustain an entire game for hours? Or does this version of Octodad slip on a banana peel, ruin its immaculate suit, and disappoint not only its own adorable children, but also all the adorable children in the world? Here’s wot I think.

I want to love my Octodad. I really do. Lord knows he’s better at the whole parenting thing than my non-Octo-dad. He’s silly yet stern when it’s called for, and he doesn’t let anything get in the way of him and the needs of his family. Not boxes, not scientists, not aquarium exhibits, not colossal sea-themed jungle gyms, not mad scientists, and definitely not banana peels. Never banana peels. Not even the opening credits to his own game! He just keeps on tripping, slipping, and, um, breakdancing until all obstacles are naught but gum on his foot cups.

He’s a determined hero, but also a timid one. He fears that his Average Human Family will realize what he really is despite the overwhelming subtlety of his disguise and… yeah, he’s clearly an octopus. That is the whole joke. But does it land? Again and again and again for the duration of a whole game? Er, yes and no. It’s a complicated question in a tongue-in-cheek/cephalopodic beak thing game like this.

But let’s back up a bit, slip on a banana peel, and – rather frustratingly – land right back at the beginning. Octodad’s control scheme is entirely physics-based. You switch between two basic modes at the press of a button, one of which lets you drag/fling Octodad’s “legs” forward while the other allows for tactile-ish manipulation of Octodad’s touchiest, feeliest tentacles. Regardless, he moves like a windmill falling down a mountain (and also both are made of jelly). It’s unwieldy, inefficient, and frequently a source of hilarious rage, but that’s the whole point. In Octodad, pain is pleasure. I had my fair share of rib-rattling belly laughs, but they often came alongside some small amount of bitterness, and occasionally even a hint of melancholy.

This stems in part from the plight of Octodad’s character. He’s a cipher for that insecure whisper (or mumble or scream) inside all of us that says we can’t be everything those we love want us to be. And in conveying that, Octodad is both witty and touching, punctuating barrages of absurdism with some surprisingly emotional blubs and glubs. By and large it’s a game that tickles funny bones for solid (if not quite incredible) chuckles, but it knows when to start tugging heartstrings as well. It doesn’t always balance the two sides of its tone perfectly, but in its best moments it reminded me of a decent-ish Pixar movie.

It begins extremely promisingly. From an adorable marriage to typical morning replete with coffee-making and lawn-mowing to deceptively hazardous grocery shopping, I got a brilliantly mundane look at the terrifying struggle that is Octodad’s day-to-day life. Small things are key in these sorts of scenes, and Octodad nails them. Various family portraits, hyper-detailed, item-ridden environments, a plethora of cute dialogue exchanges – it all adds a certain believability to this world of relentless insanity. It’s the dadness in this game’s madness. The roots in the family tree. More than anything else, these early sequences keep Octodad grounded.

And these places are absolute delights to explore. Everything from grocery store food products to aquarium exhibits are laden with sly jokes and references, even if I could see some being a little esoteric for those who aren’t super immersed in recent videogame culture. Moments of pure physical glee abound, with some objects and puzzles launching Octodad sky-high – gangly limbs splayed out like helicopter blades made of spaghetti – and others producing oh-so-satisfying results when bopped, thrown, or run into. It’s videogame slapstick humor at its finest – a miles-long domino chain of mirthful catastrophe.

I just wish it maintained that feeling for its duration. Octodad, for all its eight-armed charm, can’t quite hold itself together. Purposefully mundane shenanigans do eventually start to wear out their welcome. Ultimately, objectives for the game’s first half generally boil down to (clumsily) collecting various items, (clumsily) performing actual chores, and (clumsily) navigating increasingly complex environments, all while trying to avoid egregiously bumping into people, dropping items, or anything else that might make your whole human act seem a little fishy. It doesn’t take long, however, for those basic pursuits to grow repetitive and a bit tedious, especially when finicky fixed camera angles take the world for a blender-like spin. The game’s first half is rarely particularly challenging, but comedic frustration does have a tendency to evolve into hair-pulling and swear-slinging over lengthier periods of time.

But then the plot ratchets up the drama, and the whole game goes down a dark road. Without spoiling anything, scenarios begin to require levels of precision that’d give even regular old Dadodads fits. Fairly unforgiving stealth and some almost-platformy moments, especially, seemed to expect that I’d somehow become so comfortable in my slimy skin that you’d think I was born in it. And don’t even get me started on boss fights, which are thankfully few but urrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggh (which, when translated from Octodad’s adorable blub language, means “urrrrrrrrrrrrrrggggggggggh”).

Octodad never completely stops being silly, but it becomes increasingly difficult to step back and laugh at the situation when failure greets your every flailing footfall. I don’t think piloting Octodad through zany mundanity could’ve sustained a whole game, but a sudden demand for exacting precision isn’t the change of pace the game needed. Doubtless, I got much better at controlling my eternally paternal alter ego over time, but I never felt like the purposefully imprecise controls offered enough, er, control to make stealth, platforming, and the like particularly enjoyable. Literally doing chores in Octodad’s opening was more fun than performing more “videogame-y” tasks toward its conclusion.

So, in the grand scheme of things, I only had a marginally decent time with Octodad – and one laced with infuriating moments, to boot. That makes me very Octosad, as I had extremely high hopes. But there is a saving grace to all of this, a second lease on life for a central mechanic that maybe had less life in it than developer Young Horses originally thought. Co-op allows one player to control Octodad’s arms while another controls his legs, and it quickly devolves into either an impractically silly war of wills or an oddly graceful dance of dual-brained derring do. It won’t be your next big co-op fix, but it is worth its weight in moments of crowd-pleasing absurdity and exasperated giggle-sighs. I could see myself breaking it out to amuse myself and others every once in a while. It’s not the most traditional “party” game, but then that’s to be expected. It’s deceptive, like our hallowed Octofather himself.

I also imagine that this one will show its true legs on services like YouTube and Twitch, where people will use the game’s tentacle tangle of goofy systems as a tool for Surgeon-Sim-2013-style comedy. Octodad, I think, is a game about people and togetherness that’s at its best when it’s fostering human interactions. Bringing people together – whether in person or over the Internet – to make them laugh, cry, or want to strangle each other with eight million suction-cup-laden arms. Steam Workshop support further cements the notion that Octodad could grow into far more than the extra-flexible skeleton of a game Young Horses only just put out.

For now, however, that’s all we’ve got to go on. A newly released game. Octodad certainly isn’t bad as a standalone experience. It just wears out its rather gimmicky welcome quickly, despite the clear amount of love and detail packed into each of its environments. And then the game’s final act rolls around, and more “game-y” sections do massive damage to the fun factor. When those segments took the wheel, it felt to me like Octodad was desperately trying to be something it wasn’t. The game accidentally became a perfect metaphor for itself. It’s often charming and it really does mean well, but it has a bad habit of tripping over its own two four feet when it really counts. I want to love my Octodad. I really do. But I don’t think he really understands me, and – worse – I don’t think he really understands himself.

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38 Comments »

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  1. Tei says:

    I must get this game. I bet a six year old will find the most hilarious thing ever :D

    • Dog Pants says:

      My five-year-old loves watching me play it, and I much prefer having her blurt out “Daddy, can we play the octopus game” in the supermarket than the “zombie game” (Plants Vs Zombies) or the “shooting game” (Planetside 2, it’s a long story).

    • Buttephon says:

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  2. Katana-Bob says:

    So Octo/10 then?

    *runs away*

  3. Premium User Badge

    Gap Gen says:

    I’ve only played up to the 2nd level (in the house). And I agree that it seems like the kind of thing were adding actual precision and success seems to miss the point of it – that success should be fairly doable but incredibly messy, and that repeated failure would kill any sense of fun in the thing.

  4. Shadrach says:

    I absolutely love small innovative games like this, and it doesn’t really matter to me of they are “short”. My favorite part was definitely sneaking around the ship like an octopedal Sam Fisher, and Octodad is at his best when being allowed to take his time. They should have expanded on this gameplay part.

    I played the free game and found it very frustrating at times when faced with having a time limit along with the (intentionally) horrible controls. Thankfully this game is mostly free from such frustrations – except for that fire and escape scene – **frustrated angry blurbs**. They should have just dropped that part – trying over and over again and having to rely on pure chance if you make it or not is just bad design.

    It’s got some replay value though, will definitely go through again to get some more of the hidden ties and acheivements. The “Best Man” achievement is a real laugh-out-loud moment when you figure it out :)

  5. Premium User Badge

    stahlwerk says:

    This review will certainly get the fanboys up in arms.

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      Yeah, but they’ll complain if it gets anything below tentacle out of tentacle.

      • brulleks says:

        I’ll wait until the sales and pick it up for a couple of squid. Sounds like anyone who pays full price might feel like a bit of a sucker.

        • Scumbag says:

          Everyone should enjoy it regardless! They just need some backbone (or any bones).

        • Premium User Badge

          Gap Gen says:

          Right, in this economy it makes sense to help your squids go father.

      • vivlo says:

        though what it really deserves is an octodad out of tentacle

    • bateleur says:

      Sure, but then that’s why people actually read RPS – because they say what they… erm… Wot they Think. :-)

      I’m still going to get this game, but I’ll probably enjoy it more now for knowing what to expect.

    • Dog Pants says:

      They’re going to kick up a right ink.

    • Premium User Badge

      Vandelay says:

      Fanboys up in arms? They could… they could… TAKE ON THE WORLD!

  6. LionsPhil says:

    What a shame. He was a good man.

  7. Lemming says:

    No crack/mention of the multiplayer? Or is that not on the PC version?

  8. Scumbag says:

    Gotta agree with most of this. The game has loads of great things, but also a boatload of missteps that made me enjoy the free original more than this one.
    The last few levels are horrible. Who the hell thought it was a good idea to have randomly breaking platforms in a game with purposefully bad controls? If I wanted to die over and over again I’d play Meatboy or Dark Souls, and with those I would be able to tell that the deaths were fair.

  9. tungstenHead says:

    One thing I noticed is that the game is always encouraging you to take things slowly and not cause a ruckus. And that’s plenty of fun, but the game would have been much better served by a sequence in which the player is under a stiff time limit but allowed to make a big mess. I found I was afforded too much opportunity to be ultra cautious and I never really wound up creating the calamitous slapstick humour that the game is supposed to be about.

    But to be certain, I still laughed a bunch and enjoyed myself.

  10. realitysconcierge says:

    I love octodad, but this review described exactly my experience with it :(.

  11. SgtStens says:

    I think they should make a mod for this where two teams each controlling one OctoDad fight it out. Like a terrible cross between QWOP, a three-legged race, and Nidhogg.

  12. Premium User Badge

    Serrit says:

    Did Nathan just use the word “quids”? Well done old chap!

  13. sharonakemp says:

    my buddy’s mom makes $79 hourly on the internet . She has been without work for seven months but last month her pay was $20122 just working on the internet for a few hours. Look At This =========>>> http://www.jobs39.com

  14. The Random One says:

    Sounds like the first game’s final bout (that caused me to give up on it and watch a YouTube playthrough instead) not only wasn’t removed but was extended into the entire ending. I’ll wait for a 50% off sale, since I’ll only enjoy the first 50% of the game.

  15. bjohndooh says:

    I started playing this game with an xbox controller and then found it impossible to switch to mouse/keyboard.
    Completed the whole game in one sitting without much difficulty.
    My biggest complaint was that it was a bit short, but the steam workshop support gives it much potential.

  16. Curundir says:

    Nathan, self-proclaimed king-of-Hyphens. In this article you’ll find:

    pre-Double-Fine-Adventure, heart-stealing, identity-thieving octo-man/myth/legend, non-Octo-dad, sea-themed, tongue-in-cheek/cephalopodic, physics-based, tactile-ish, rib-rattling, decent-ish, coffee-making and lawn-mowing, day-to-day, sky-high, oh-so-satisfying, miles-long, eight-armed, blender-like, hair-pulling and swear-slinging, “videogame-y”, Co-op, dual-brained, crowd-pleasing, giggle-sighs, Surgeon-Sim-2013-style , suction-cup-laden, extra-flexible, “game-y”.

    Good-bye RPS! I loved the blog while it was well written and funny. Now? Not so much anymore. Too much of this intelligent-y word-crafting by one of the newer members. I liked Cara’s style a lot, as I did some of the passer-by’s. But they got dumped, so I’ll finally have to dump this book-mark. Sorry-to-say…

    • Premium User Badge

      Gap Gen says:

      Worth pointing out that I think they bring freelancers in on short contracts, so it’s possible that they’ll return.

    • Zekiel says:

      Bye!

    • Phasma Felis says:

      I was chuckling along thinking “oh that Nathan, isn’t he great,” and then we got to the end and you think all of this is a bad thing? What?

    • Berzee says:

      Would you say that your hopes for RPS have been dashed?

  17. Hexagram says:

    This game is very much a case of ‘the more the merrier.’ While I can’t see myself playing much of it alone, we played through to the end of the aquarium level with 4 people, each one controlling their own limb, and we had a blast. The feeling of satisfaction as the two man ‘leg team’ hits their stride (sorry) takes some beating!

  18. Jinoru says:

    This game demands a level editor/creator.

  19. -Spooky- says:

    “Release the Kra .. ” .. *oh wait*

  20. nancymcross says:

    my buddy’s step-aunt makes $82/hr on the computer. She has been out of work for 10 months but last month her paycheck was $18010 just working on the computer for a few hours. read this…. http://www.dub30.com