Developers: Young Horses
Octodad: Dadliest Catch stems from what is, quite frankly, one of the best comic foundations for a game we've ever come across. Octodad is a loving family man -- a doting husband and father -- who flips burgers on weekends for his kids in the back yard, mows the lawn and weeds the flowerbed, chops firewood, does the grocery shopping, and takes his family on day trips to the aquarium.
But he's also an octopus, meaning that everything he does is hilariously awkward.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is what you'd get if you stuffed QWOP into a blender with The Ministry of Silly Walks and a Sea Life Centre. It wears its inspirations on its sleeve too, with numerous nods to Bennett Foddy’s brilliantly farcical athletics game, and an abundance of comedic calamity that call to mind the shctick of Chaplin, Laurel and Hardy, and the absurdist creations of Monty Python. It's wonderfully silly, and it's been some time since we've seen a game revel in such a simple yet effective joke. It's likely to be this year's Surgeon Simulator in that regard.
Octodad draws its challenge and its charm from a deliciously warped control system. You control four of the cephaloprotagonist's limbs -- ostensibly arms and legs -- independently: one trigger to lift the left leg, one trigger to lift the right, with direction then controlled by the left stick. What follows is a slithering, tumbling, lolloping motion that would probably be disgusting if everything wasn't so brightly saturated in the aesthetics of a CBBC cartoon. It's hilariously haphazard, even more so when trying to climb anything such as the stairs on a slide or a ladder of cereal boxes on display in a shop.
Without any buttons depressed, the left stick controls lateral movement of Octodad's arms, with the right governing height. From there, a tap of R1 or X will allow you to pick up objects and, if you tap again while in motion, fling those objects about the place like a loon. This becomes especially important when Octodad shoots some hoops later on in the game. No, really. The DualShock 4 is compatible with PCs, so I ended up playing the whole thing through as I might when the game emerges later this year on PS4. There was a little more precision with the mouse, largely thanks to the scroll wheel controlling arm elevation, but it's a purposefully shambolic control system whichever input method you prefer, and that's fundamentally important.
Octodad needs to maintain a low profile, else people start to suspect that he's not in fact human. The game is meant to be difficult, just as attempting to perform brain surgery in Surgeon Simulator was nigh-on impossible. Octodad: Dadliest Catch might not have the purity in comedy (nor the lashings of gore) of a farcical operation gone wrong, but trying to squeeze a suit-clad octopus into a crane game in an arcade, or watching him tumble haplessly headfirst into another parent's trolley, or staring in amused horror as he pours milk everywhere but the glass in his eager daughter's outstretched hand before flipping the dining room table and wrecking the lounge, this is the stuff of comedy gold.
But comedy is a dangerous thing in games; what's funny for some can quickly grow stale for others. I spent several hours playing the game in co-op with a friend the other night (yup, the game supports four-way co-op, with each of you controlling a separate limb), and we were killing ourselves laughing, but whether we'll go back it is another matter. The game's longevity will no doubt be boosted come April, and it's the perfect sort of title for PS Plus, but when all is said and done it's a short experience that only really has one joke. For many that just might not be enough, and whether or not the joke gets old for you will depend on how you feel some of the later levels, which bring in increasing difficult elements such as trying to climb escalators going the wrong way, and the finale is a misstep built from sheer tedium. The game didn't need a nemesis or a boss battle, and in the final scenes there's little of the joy in making the mundane and normal seem extraordinary that's captured so brilliantly in the first few levels. There are no complaints to be had about the controls, though; they underpin everything that is good about this game. However, there are a few level design choices towards the end of the brief running time that will certainly prove divisive.
That's okay, though, because Young Horses have also included a workshop and level editor, meaning that players can design their own content and then slap it onto Steam for others to download. There are already a handful of weird and wonderful levels on there, and it is to be hoped that if the game can attract some budding designers and modding fans, this could provide some much needed staying power beyond the attraction of returning to the main game to collect all of the ties in each level and uncover the smattering of easter eggs hidden about the place.
A tenner is a tall price for a game that lasts only a couple of hours and only really hints at replayability, so the question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you find the premise funny enough to warrant buying. I did, and I'm happy to say that it's given me several evenings of belly-laughs, with hopefully more to come if the Workshop can find a community. Ultimately, I found Octodad: Dadliest Catch to be far more funny than frustrating, though whether or not you will is another matter entirely.
- An absolutely wonderful comedy concept
- Slapstick shenanigans are brilliant
- Co-op is hilarious anarchic fun
- Workshop provides potential for longevity
- It made me laugh my arse off
- Later stages try to force difficulty a little too much
- The nemesis chef is nothing but irritating
- Enjoyment is based entirely on how much patience you have for the running joke
The Short Version -- Octodad: Dadliest Catch is an absurdist delight. It only has one joke, but it's a damn good one. Though the game itself falters perhaps towards the end as Young Horses try to force things a little too much, it is to be hoped that the creation tools and the Workshop included with the game extend its lifespan. A brave and bonkers game, for the most part Octodad lollops along the fine line between fun and frustration with gloriously haphazard aplomb.