Note: Portions of this review appear in our PC review of the game.
You wouldn’t expect much of a freeware title built around a single terrible reality show pun, but the original Octodad proved itself to be a funny and slightly heartwarming little number. Following the game’s success at GDC, some of its student developers teamed up to form Young Horses Inc., and the newly-minted studio got to work on a bigger, better sequel. With more levels, a more involved story, and one more terrible reality TV pun in its title, Octodad: Dadliest Catch made waves when it hit Steam late last year. Our own Lee Cooper hand plenty to say about that version of the game, and I more or less agree with his assessment (though I’d have scored it a little higher).
The PS4 version is more or less the same game with slightly different controls, and while using a controller does make a bit of a difference, (easier to walk, harder to use your “hand”) it’s not enough to merit writing the same review twice. Instead, since this port is for Playstation, I’d like to compare it to Sony’s own awkward dad simulator, Heavy Rain. Because that’s super topical these days. Which of the two is better, and why is it Octodad? Read on to find out.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is the strangest slice of gaming pie since Mister Mosquito. You’re a family man — I mean, mollusk — with a loving wife, and two semi-beautiful children. Although that in itself is a medical mystery best left to the Japanese and their research of tentacle erotica. You see, despite your nervous burbles, destructive tottering through the assorted environments, and whatever eventual assault you accidentally launch on some innocent bystanders, you mustn’t break character. After all, that’s the fundamental goal in Octodad; remain undetected while you perform your fatherly duties. Thankfully, the inhabitants of the town you live in are a chromosome away from wearing floaties in the shower, which makes being stealthy about as necessary as stilettos on ice.
The minute-to-minute duties aren’t as easy, however. In theory, they’re the simplest tasks imaginable. Things like shopping for frozen pizza, mowing the lawn, flipping some burgers, exploring an aquarium with the family and walking litter the list. Nothing particularly daunting, right? In reality, however, as a gummy-creature of the ocean, these “puzzles” you’re required to complete involve moving your limbs. And that’s not something an octopus can easily do on land, it seems. Octodad isn’t about meeting expectations, though. There are no groundbreaking gameplay mechanics at work, either. In the end, it’s all about dexterity.
It’s not surprising, then, that controlling that squishy sack of innards is tricky; especially when those wandering suction cups attach themselves to any inanimate object that crosses your path. One input controls one leg, while another controllers the next. Another button switches to your free arm, which can then be used to grab and move different objects in the environment. It’s a seemingly simple control-scheme that’s gloriously difficult to master, and occasionally an exercise in frustration. Octopussy-footing around a level can feel a lot like dragging a wet plastic bag full of marbles through a puddle of jelly, but it’s always hilarious to witness and incredibly fun — until you’re tentacle is trapped in a crevice as you waddle helplessly.
Nevertheless, that’s not what makes Octodad the weird game that it is. Its inexplicable nature does, and the lack of an obvious genre helps, too. It’s not quite challenging enough to be a puzzle game, with most stages demanding a task as simple as plugging a leak with a stuffed animal, or escorting your son through a jungle-gym of kelp and kelp related obstacles. As a platformer, it also fails due to its lack of an intuitive infrastructure, and exploration is usually rewarded with dissatisfaction. But that’s not to say that Octodad isn’t good. For that matter, it can be great; especially if you’re a Laurel and Hardy fan, and part of that greatness is owed to its on-purpose awful controls which, for better or worse, will consume a majority of your time.
On the contrary, the story is mostly insignificant. There’s a sushi-chef that can smell your true fishiness, and he’s determined to put a stop to your charade — no matter what it takes. Your wife suspects something is amiss as well, and there’s the whole “you’re an octopus” business that comes naturally with such a premise. It’s nothing mind-blowing, but it is a source of some hilarious moments, especially in the comments you’ll hear throughout the game. Oh, that family of yours and their silly, silly comments.
The banter is possibly the most charming, amusing and often downright engaging part of Octodad, too. There are even some feels to be had here and there. One such instance has you struggling to wobble up a running escalator while your daughter — too scared to be alone — motivates you with some strangely endearing phrases. She’ll also spout nonsense about monsters raising her if she’s abandoned, and becoming a jellyfish that produces honey — normal little girl stuff. Regardless of how often the quips and phrases are reused, they’re almost always a joy to hear. While there are plenty of awkward slapstick gags, references and jokes across the short adventure, I found it was my family and their silliness that made the intermittent floppy levels worth drudging through.
Octodad succeeds as both a gut-busting slapstick routine and a touching treatise on what it means to be a family. It’s a little short, and it won’t turn the gaming world on its head, but at least it’s fun, replayable, heartwarming and didn’t cost 15 million dollars. It goes to show that it’s better for a game to tackle one idea well than it is to aim for a bunch and miss them all. If you’ve played it on PC there’s not much reason to pick up this port, but if you haven’t, this hands-down is the best “being a dad” experience on PlayStation. Plus, if you have a real family, the co-op mode (where each player controls one of Octodad’s limbs) is a hoot.
Version Reviewed: PlayStation 4