Picture a scene. You arrive at the grocery store. You see a man standing at the end of the hall. Act casual, you think while he eyes you. Try to look natural. You extend your wobbly, jaundiced limbs and wander down the hall, knocking over displays and accidentally smacking the poor fellow in the head while trying to pick up a magazine. Play it cool, you think. You notice a Segway at the end of the hallway. You always wanted one, but your wife said no, because you’d look like a total douche on one.
You think, now’s my chance. You grab the nearest pair of shutter shades and hop on that Segway, cruising into the grocery store. Suddenly, you realize that with boneless limbs, it’s quite difficult to navigate the machine properly and end up crashing into the cereal aisle and run a woman over. Trying to save face, you maneuver your way to the other end of the store, only to smash into a watermelon display and slip on some poorly placed banana peels. It is at this point that the people around you realize that you are not the unassuming man they thought you were. You are an octopus.
This is the glorious experience of playing Octodad: Dadliest Catch.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch (PC [Reviewed], Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4)
Developer: Young Horses, Inc.
Publisher: Young Horses, Inc.
Release Date: January 30, 2014 (PC, Mac, Linux), March 2014 (PlayStation 4)
If you’ve played the original Octodad, you probably have a good idea of what the sequel has in store. The premise is simple, but excellent. You play as an octopus masquerading as a suburban stay-at-home father. This being the case, simple tasks become impossible challenges. In any other game, climbing an escalator is just a means to reach a new obstacle. In this game, the escalator is the obstacle.
This might sound frustrating—and it is—but it’s frustrating in a good way. Trying to climb a ladder, you’ll fall down multiple times, but it works to the game’s advantage because it’s damn funny to watch an octopus get flung across the map while a room full of people stare on, completely oblivious. There are a few sequences where the unwieldy controls lose their novelty value, such as the final encounter, but for the most part, every challenge is fair and approachable in multiple ways.
One of the biggest new features in Dadliest Catch is a full, robust story compared to the original’s barebones plot. The narrative constructed here is still simple, but carries the shtick well. Outside of a few flashbacks, the game is spent living out an average day in the life of Octodad. This includes performing household chores, buying groceries, and taking his kids to the aquarium. Some of the the chapters leading up to the ending are slow and convoluted, but they lead up to a heartwarming, albeit semi-disturbing resolution.
The main characters are the same from the first game, but now with more spoken lines and a bit more development. The writing is excellent, showing off a lot of self-awareness about the ridiculous concept, and the voice actors they selected do a much better job than the grating voices present in the first game. Octodad’s highly specific burbles got a good chuckle out of me, but the real stars of the show are the NPCs who just hang out and comment about random stuff (special shout-outs to the sailors in the boat section and the marine biologists in the aquarium).
But let’s be honest here, as great as the story and characters may be, Octodad is all about the gameplay. On this subject, I have to say that Young Horses really did an excellent job—they refined the controls from the first game and took them up a notch. Although most tasks use the same basic techniques, each one feels unique from all the others thanks to the physics toys you can play with. There are fans that can make you float, springs to shoot you into the air, sticky surfaces, slippery surfaces, and moving platforms. Learning to use them (often on the fly) lends the player a great sense of ingenuity.
Outside of the main story, there are also hidden ties to encourage players to go back through and explore every level fully. Collecting these ties generally requires out-of-the-box thinking. You’d really be missing out if you didn’t try to look for the ties. Some of those puzzles were my favorites in the whole game. In addition to the collectibles, there is also at least one hidden level and dozens of references in the grocery store that you’d be sorry to miss.
Admittedly, the game does have its faults. While riding the Segway (which is already difficult to control), I became pressed up against a wall and clipped out of bounds. It also becomes incredibly frustrating in the aquarium to sneak past some of the marine biologists who might as well be X-Men with their mutant-level super senses.
Despite those minor complaints, this is a game that is remarkably solid, especially considering how flexible the engine has to be. There is no shortage of fun to be had causing wanton destruction under a flimsy disguise. Throw in a cartoony, 50s style art design and an earworm soundtrack, and you’ve got a pleasant little package that’s fun for the whole family—especially dad.
For the longest time, I’ve felt as if there aren’t enough really weird games out there. Sure, we’ve got stuff like Katamari Damacy to get a fix of the bizarre, but such games are few and far between, and few of them are in the public eye. When I first played the original Octodad back in 2011, it was exactly what I was looking for. I’m glad to say that Octodad: Dadliest Catch not only lives up to the standard of its predecessor, but surpasses it as my new favorite feel-good game.