(Originally published on MyIGN on May 2nd 2014)
(Reviewed on PS4)
Where do you start with a game like Octodad? Inspired by the ridiculous internet browser game QWOP, in which you control a gangly legged and impossible to control Olympic runner attempting to run the 100m; Octodad (from Chicago-based developer Young Horses) essentially takes the gameplay and controls of QWOP but applies them to the age-old, much pondered question – how would an octopus masquerading as a human manage to navigate their way through modern suburban life?
The basic premise in Octodad is that you control a bright orange cephalopod who has to navigate through the everyday routine and mundane normality of suburban life with his wife and two kids without raising suspicion that he’s not a man, but a mollusc. Naturally, with a set-up as good as this, the game is very funny from the get-go. The controls are simple. Left trigger moves your left legs up, right trigger moves your right legs up, left stick controls your arm, and X/right bumper sticks your suction cups to an object, allowing you to lift and drop items. That’s it. That’s all the controls there are, that’s all the controls you need and that’s all the controls you’re getting. But thankfully that’s all this game needs to showcase its whacky loveable heart.
What follows is an absolutely ridiculous game which sees you struggling to control Octodad through a gauntlet of increasingly difficult tasks and scenarios; I was laughing from the very first in-game prompt to move my ‘arm’ tentacle and I barely stopped laughing in my rubbery triumphant galumph all the way to the credits roll (which in itself was quite unique, you’re sitting in the cinema with your family and you can flop around the rows of seats and fling overpriced buckets of popcorn and soft drink cups at the screen and others to your heart’s content). Simple real life tasks such as picking up food from the supermarket, navigating a busy queue to get museum tickets and (possibly worst of all) trying to clamber up moving escalators all take herculean amounts of effort to pull off, as your rubbery eight-legged protagonist flails and crashes through the game’s eleven obstacle course-like levels. Hell, even making a cup of coffee becomes a gargantuan task as you ineffectively send his tentacles sprawling over in a desperate attempt to pick up the cup!
The game is naturally hilarious, and often had me laughing out loud (or ‘lol-ing’, as the kids say these days) as the difficulty and ridiculous-ness went up hand-in-hand in a nice correlative pattern. The gameplay is very repetitive, but due to the pacing and good level design, each new area and obstacle makes you apply your knowledge and ability to control Octodad in new and increasingly challenging fresh (water) ways.
Although the game is short in terms of length, it is a charming and well-written story that is full of heart, warmth and compassion. You start out on Octodad’s wedding day, which involves hilariously guiding him down the aisle, careening from side to side trying to not knock over the bride and the rest of the guests, and you move onto a whole plethora of normally mundane activities-turned crafty obstacle courses. The writing here is witty, and there’s some clever fourth-wall breaking and topical gaming jokes carefully nestled in amongst the slap-stick and physical comedy. For a game that is entirely based around the main character’s lack of control over his movements, it manages to tell quite a touching heartfelt story which I didn’t see coming, and only added to it’s charm.
The game’s greatest strength is also its greatest weakness – the controls. The fundamental goal of Octodad is to make you laugh out loud at how ridiculous each scenario is, and how ineffectual your control over him is. Despite this being hilarious from a physical comedy sense, at times, the game can feel frustrating in some of the more difficult areas later on when you have to move fast and it’s hard to get any predictable grasp of what direction you’re going to wobble off to.
In addition, the wonky, unhelpful camera angles and your virtually unavailing control over them are very frustrating bug bears whilst playing – you almost have as little control over the camera as you do over Octodad! Many of the later areas became artificially difficult as you have to not only fight the floppy controls of Octodad himself, but the awkward and non-responsive camera as well. You can tap the d-pad to temporarily nudge the camera up, down, left or right, but once you let go it just swings back into it’s original awkward place, usually leaving you with a view that’s zoomed out too far, or obscured by an obstacle in the foreground.
Occasionally, as you might imagine for a game that relies on the floppy ragdoll characteristics of it’s protagonist so heavily, you can run into some glitches and areas where our beaked and tentacled friend will get stuck in/around/under/between/inside/(insert preposition of choice here) the objects and items in the environments. Thankfully, though, the checkpoint system is well implemented, and you can usually jump back to a recent point without losing too much progress.
Once you’ve flopped through the story once, there are a variety of fiendishly difficult trophies that require some serious will-power (and a bit of luck) to go back and earn, and sneakily hidden collectibles that are stashed in the game’s stages that will encourage completionist players to go back and play through the delightfully whacky game again. On top of that, developer completion times are also listed for each level for those players looking to speedrun on all eight legs through the game and set high-shores…ahem, I mean, high-scores. Finally, if you have friends who have always wanted to play alongside you in operating an ungainly gangly octopus, you’re in luck! The multiplayer mode allows two people to control Octodad using two dualshock 4 controllers, as if controlling him with one wasn’t difficult enough!
Octodad is a unique and hilarious platform squirmer, which despite its single gameplay mechanic, ironically manages to gracefully avoid falling into gimmicky territory by constantly ramping up the challenge, humour and charm.
(Octodad: Dadliest Catch is out now on PS4 and PC)