A hilarious piece of video game slapstick that, if the execution had been a bit tighter, would be a stone cold classic. My first hour playing this game had me thinking this might wind up being my favorite game of the playthrough. Sadly, it ultimately fell short. But it’s still a hoot and something I can enthusiastically recommend.
Page 10, Game 21: Octodad: Dadliest Catch by Young Horses
You are a devoted husband and loving father with a dark, terrible secret: you’re not a man, you’re an octopus, boo.
You navigate daily life without giving away your true identity — which is a huge problem, because the world was made for creatures with endoskeletons. You tend to awkwardly flop and lurch around and generally just wreck the living shit out of everything.
The game’s prologue/tutorial takes you to your wedding day, where you need to get dressed and spastically heave your way down the aisle. But how will you negotiate the various pitfalls a cruel, uncaring world has placed before you?
By just blundeing your way through them, of course.
This is the essence of the game: flopping haplessly around your environment, causing pure chaos as you attempt some ridiculously mundane task. My paltry words are utterly failing to capture the rubbery insanity of this game’s physics engine — so just for whoever the hell is reading this, I learned how to capture an animated GIF. Check out this madness:
That’s me, trying to find my tux. Note that I went back for screenshots after I’d already finished the game; that’s me moving around after I understand the controls well enough to win. If it looks ridiculous to watch, I assure you it feels even more ridiculous to play. And just in case you weren’t clear on the blunderiffic comedy vibe the game is shooting for, there are banana peels. Fucking banana peels.
Octodad’s tutorial had me giggling my ass off from start to finish.
The early stages of Octodad represent the game at its best. This represents what I’ve come to think of as a “mundanity simulator.” The game is all about taking some ridiculously simple task, but putting some sort of twist on it. The first comp that comes to my mind is Job Simulator, where you’re participating in an interactive exhibit being run by robots who don’t quiiiite get what human jobs were actually like. A game like this rewards you for playing with your environment and puts a lunatic twist on the familiar. When Octodad, purrs, that’s exactly what it does.
Unfortunately, it runs out of steam.
As the game moves on and the story takes shape, Octodad slowly morphs from Zany Physics Madness into Zany Physics Puzzle Solving. In theory, that’s a splendid idea: the game should evolve as you play it, otherwise it runs the risk of growing stale by repeating variations of the same joke over and over. But the more Octodad tries to challenge you, the more it calls attention to its own limitations.
Heaving yourself bonelessly across the screen gets less fun and more frustrating the more demands the game places on you. For instance, you’re supposed to minimize the amount of shit you wreck when eyes are on you, like when you finally stumble into the chapel and have to make your way down the aisle without annihilating the floral arrangements.
Sow too much havoc and your cover is blown, and you have to go back to a save point and try again. That’s fine in limited doses … but the same floppy imprecision that makes the game such a wonderful sight gag also makes it ill-suited for fiddly puzzle solving. And the deeper you go, the fiddlier the puzzles get.
There’s an arcade section where I still don’t know what the hell the game was trying to get me to do; I just flailed until I got the message telling me I’d won. That wasn’t fun. Levels with ladders aren’t much fun, either. When you move a leg up, sometimes it sticks to the new surface, sometimes it doesn’t, and I never did really figure it out with any degree of confidence. So, you move a leg, hope it stays put when you move the other leg, sigh and start over when it doesn’t. The game trained me to wince every time I saw ladders, because I knew I was going to have to do a lot of random flailing before I was able to proceed.
That floppy imprecision extends beyond just the nuances of the physics engine, though. Octodad struggles to keep its puzzles consistent, resulting in solutions that are too arbitrary to satisfy. In one section, I had to bash some crates into splinters in order to proceed, so I picked up a heavy object and attempted to get my smash on. My heavy object simply passed through the crates; turned out my solution was to whack them with a crane. Okay, fine, fair enough. But then the very next section told me I had to smash a different crate to proceed — and this time, I had to pick up a heavy object and get my smash on.
At one point, you need a set of disguises to get by some folks who, earlier in the game, you had to avoid entirely because they weren’t fooled in the slightest by a much better disguise. Your chief antagonist is a marauding chef who wants to turn you into sushi — at first. Then all of a sudden his goal is to expose you as an octopus. A silly cartoonish motivation feels exactly right for this game, but I kinda want that motivation to at least stay consistent.
The game hits its nadir in both fun and narrative at the third act break. A bad thing happens, which resulted in me having this interaction with the game:
Me: Is this a cutscene, or is this gameplay? I’ll click a button and see if I can move myself.
Game: OKAY FINE I’LL STOP PLAYING THE CUTSCENE IT’S NOT LIKE WE WORKED REALLY HARD ON IT OR NOTHING GAWD HERE NOW YOU CAN PLAY AGAIN YOU IMPATIENT PRICK
Me: Huh? What’s happening?!
The cutscene bailed, and I was on a boat. I figured I’d been yeeted back into the ocean, and had boarded a fishing vessel to try and make it back to my family. All I had to do was sneak past the fishermen — because when you have a game based around pratfall mayhem, what it really needs is a fucking stealth section.
But, no, I eventually figured out this was a FLASHBACK. This was how I met both my wife and the evil chef. Which raised so many questions! Why was I on the boat? Why was my future wife? Why was the chef? What were ANY of us doing here? What the hell does anybody want?!
The story just kinda turns into weird mound of babbling gibberish. I was no longer having fun attempting to untangle my limbs from the furniture; I was simply confused. And perpetually getting kicked back to prior savepoints because someone saw me. Again.
From there, I managed to flop my way to the end of the story. There were some more good moments to be had, but for the most part I was glad to be done with it. Octodad had worn out its welcome.
But then when I was poking around the main menu, I discovered the “Shorts,” and the game made me fall in love with it all over again.
Octodad includes two bonus mini-adventures. In one, he’s on his first date with Scarlet, and in the other, he’s working as a nurse. Both minigames dump the puzzle solving aspect almost entirely and have you performing tasks by flopping maniacally around a restaurant and a hospital, and they’re hilarious and wonderful.
If this is what the game had been from start to finish, it’d almost certainly be my favorite of the trawl thus far. It should have made the puzzle-solving aspect optional. If you WANT to go the precision platformer route, then the game should have given you a cookie — I dunno, here’s a nice tie or something, you mastered the octophysics, yay you. But for me, the most fun I had by far was when I was lurching ineptly through the world, leaving wreckage and chaos in my wake. The deeper I went into the game, the more I felt like it was punishing me for enjoying myself.
The good parts of this game are wonderful, enough to make me wish it had managed to sustain that loopy energy from start to finish. But honestly, even the “bad” bits are tolerable; frustrating, sure, but I found enough wit and energy in them to get me through to the end.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is clearly not the best version of itself, and that’s a bummer, because it could have been something amazing. But it still manages to be unique and funny enough to make me very glad I played it. It’s not my fave, but I can definitely recommend it just the same.
Will this next game leave me wishing that the Lovecraft references had been part of the plot and not just funny one-off jokes?
Page 25, Game 15: BREAKER by Daniel Linssen
“a blend of breakout, space invaders and ikaruga”
That’s a bunch of stuff mashed together, so who knows, Dread Cthulhu just might show up.