Octodad: Deadliest Catch’s unique control scheme is a great gimmick that takes itself too seriously. But at least the theme song is amazing!
Here I am: A man in a three-piece suit, attempting to use a children’s slide. It’s a lot harder than I remember. Impossible, really. But my daughter is goading me on from the patio, “Come on, Daddy! Try out the slide!” How could I possibly break her adorable little heart?
I lift one gelatinous leg up over my head and gingerly place it on the third step. Only three more to go! Halfway there. I lift my other leg, placing this one at the top of the ladder. I’ve done it! Now I just have to lift the first leg up to the top…
My first leg gets hooked on one of the ladder rungs as it ascends, pulling me off balance. I lose control, desperately flailing my arms. It’s no good—I slip awkwardly over the side in a puddled mass, collapsing to the ground, a shapeless yellow blob in a striking Italian suit.
I begin to wonder how nobody realizes I’m an octopus.
Yes, you are a father who is also an octopus—thus the “Octodad” name. And, as the game’s excellent theme song helpfully informs you, “nobody suspects a thing.” Well, except for your archenemy, a crazed chef who is somehow the only person who sees through your incredibly poor disguise to your true nature.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch joins a legion of other recent games where movement is the hardest mechanic to master. Think QWOP, Surgeon Simulator, or Probably Archery. In that spirit, I do not recommend playing this game with a mouse and keyboard—plug in a gamepad if you’ve got one handy. I assume the developers agree, seeing as you unlock a Steam achievement for plugging in a controller.
You’ll control three appendages in the game. By default, the left analog stick moves one of your arms toward and away from your body, while the right stick raises and lowers the arm. By pulling the left or right trigger, the sticks instead take control of Octodad’s legs.
It’s a lot harder than it sounds. And a lot sillier.
The writing is just as ludicrous. Octodad must navigate the perils of modern family life, working with his human wife to raise his two all-human kids to be model American citizens or whatever. Of course, talking to your kids about sex is quite a struggle when you can only communicate in flustered blub blub noises.
Early levels are—as absurd as it sounds—a heartwarming peek into life as an octopus disguised as a human. It’s family values soul-food, with a dash of Kafka’s Metamorphosis. Pour your daughter a glass of milk. Mow the lawn. Throw some balls around the backyard. Cook some burgers. Weed the garden.
Try not to trip over your own eight feet while accomplishing the most banal of tasks.
I’d like to be under the sea
Octodad is a gimmick. Unfortunately, it’s a gimmick that all-too-quickly aspires to something more.
The game is at its best when the stakes are low. Trample your wife’s garden and she’ll reprimand you! Throw the burgers on the ground and nobody bats an eyelid! Slip on a banana peel and look ridiculous!
But without giving the plot away, Octodad’s back half takes a turn for the serious. Stealth missions, puzzles that require nigh-pinpoint accuracy—these are frustrating enough in normal games, but in a game with a purposefully obfuscated control scheme?
It’s tedious. I just want to gallop around awkwardly and look silly and accidentally run the lawnmower over my own head. Instead, I’m wrestling against my own incompetence because it’s a hindrance, in a game where forced incompetence is supposed to be the joke.
The whole ordeal is compounded by a generic “do this thing three times” boss fight where one mistake causes the entire sequence to restart. And the sequence shouldn’t even be that hard, except your AI partner occasionally fails to react the way she’s supposed to when she’s supposed to and causes the fight to grind to a halt.
Even though it clocked in at barely two hours long, I was more than ready for Octodad to be over by the end. Actually, that’s not true. I wanted more, but I wanted more of that initial promise. I wanted to see Octodad just, well, being a dad.
Playing catch with his kids. Taking out the trash. Throwing shirts all over the ground. Refilling the printer’s ink cartridges. Petting the cat. Driving a car.
There are limitless possibilities far more interesting than the high-stakes, video game-esque, “Play the Hero!” scenario we actually got in Octodad. It sounds silly to say, “I want to do chores in a video game, except as an octopus,” but that’s exactly what I want. Octodad’s premise and gimmick break down under the weight of its self-serious story, and the whole product suffers for it.
The bottom line
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is a great example of the harm video-game tropes can do to a solid, innovative concept. While the game starts out strong, with a charming premise and an endearing cast of characters, its best qualities are quickly discarded in favor of a generic, drab, action game with a poor control scheme. And that’s just not enough.
It’s a concept with great potential, and I look forward to seeing what people do with the Steam Workshop mod support (for instance, someone already recreated a level from Super Mario 64).
But the base game left me *half-hearted blub of disappointment.*
Editor’s note: This article was updated to correct an error in the game’s name.