Review – Octodad: Dadliest Catch

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Equal parts charming, frustrating, and novel, Octodad makes for a worthwhile if uneven experience.

Nobody suspects a thing. At least that’s what the theme song to Octodad: Dadliest Catch would have us believe. Exactly how an octopus has managed to marry a human wife and have two children without revealing the whole, you know, octopus thing, perhaps that’s best left unanswered. So let’s instead start with a different question, one that you will invariably scream at full volume over the game’s all-too-short two hour running time: how in the hot holy fuck am I supposed to move this thing around? It’s a question which, despite being the driving force behind the game’s mechanics, which require you to independently control each of the titular cephalopadre’s  limbs, isn’t adequately addressed before you are tossed into some of the game’s more trying parts. But the frustration is perhaps forgivable on the grounds that struggling to be Octodad mirrors the character’s struggle to… well, be Octodad. It’s thus a rare bird (or fish) of a game that allows you to feel empathy directly through its mechanics, and it’s this quality that ultimately allows Octodad to redeem itself for some of its sins.

Structurally, Octodad probably most resembles a platformer, though the gimmicky nature of the control scheme can make it feel more like a string of mini-games than anything else. After a brief tutorial and a softball of a starter level, Octodad drops you in a supermarket and tasks you with collecting some difficultly-placed groceries while keeping your act together (by not bumping into other patrons as you slosh about) so as not to reveal your amphibious nature. It’s at this early stage that it becomes quite apparent that Octodad has left out some major points in its instruction, and the resulting struggle to climb objects and properly use OD’s suction cup-laden feet is a definite low point. Fortunately, that early mastery will help you with the myriad challenges that come, some of which emphasize speed, some of which require care and finesse, and all of which come with a side of Octodad’s undeniable charm and humor.

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Hey, man, octopi are people, too.

And your success in these ordeals rewards you with a story which just enough to set up the relationships between Octodad and his family but is mostly content you let you experience its emotional points simply through the gameplay. As you stumble through your octolife, generally making a mess of things and living in constant fear that your true nature will be revealed at any moment, you get to see just how important the dad part of Octodad is. And as you struggle to keep your limbs in check so that you can save your family from problems big and small, you realize just how difficult life must be for the man with the three piece suit, and how his dedication to be a true “human” father is an all-consuming task.

It’s a powerful message made all the more potent by the fact that it is conveyed almost entirely through experience. You aren’t told that Octodad is terrified, you just become Octodad and feel his terror. Intentional or not, it’s a clever trick that actually gives those frustrating moments trying to navigate a jungle gym or mow the lawn a lot of emotional power, and its ultimately what makes Octodad a rewarding and heartwarming experience.



2 responses to “Review – Octodad: Dadliest Catch”

  1. […] point to review more small or indie games at launch, ultimately tackling Stardrive, Reus, Divekick, Octodad, and Cloudbuilt.  And this week, I was sitting down to hammer out a review of the larger but […]

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