There’s something strangely poetic about being an immaculately dressed octopus posing as a human, learning to hide his secret for the sake of his family and this love he’s somehow—mysteriously—cultivated. And there’s something oddly graceful about the way he spins and twirls and moves with a reckless abandon throughout the world, balancing on the edge of a knife splitting reality and some indescribable existence where no one knows he’s a god damn marine creature.
But there’s also something problematic when the humor of the absurdity is overtaken by some misplaced desire to turn Octodad: Dadliest Catch into a traditional walk through Trope Valley. For much of the game, one where you do indeed play as an octopus trying to keep the fact that he’s an ocean dweller who can’t speak English on the down-low, you delve deep into a pool of intentionally funny gags and emergent bits of humor.
It all comes from the fact that Dadliest Catch, the more substantial followup to Young Horses, Inc.’s original Octodad game from 2010, makes it controls so effing inscrutable within a world so impossibly ordinary. They’ve mapped one leg to each trigger and the right arm to both sticks (one for each the X and Y dimensions) and dropped you in the middle of Pleasantville. It opens with a seriously funny little goof, and then lets you loose to wreak unintentional havoc.
And you will cause a lot of damage. Or at least you should, even if you have the patience to slowly scrunch each leg forward and backward to simulate orderly walking, thinking about what you’re doing before you do it. The game is immensely more fun and funnier when you subscribe to the belief that your instincts will serve you just fine.
It’s impossible to not laugh as you earnestly try to pick the weeds from your wife’s lovingly tended garden only to get a stern talking-to as you stomp every flower in there. Or when you try to make coffee and end up accidentally hucking the beans into the fire and then flipping the table and every chair as you flop over to retrieve them. Dadliest Catch is a genuinely funny game, which is genuinely hard to do.
The game starts to fall apart when it tries to check off staples on the list of Video Game Oldies. It seems, much in the manner of Animaniacs‘ Chicken Boo, there is only one man in the world who knows right away that Octodad is not human. He also happens to be a chef hell-bent on catching and pulling back the veil for the rest of the world.
This gins up an antagonist where there probably didn’t need to be one. For much of the time (hell, even by the end, which sneaks up on you after a short two or so hours), the only enemy you need is the laws of physics, and it is a bitch. When the simple act of traversing the span of a living room can quickly and easily become a travesty, the addition of an antagonistic impetus is unneeded. My foe is flipping this burger patty, not beating a crazed chef.
The addition of confusingly stock video game ingredients into an otherwise wholly unique piece of nonsense only serves to degrade the experience. When the game is asking you to go grocery shopping like nothing is wrong or retrieve and then put on a bow tie without, what it seems, any meaningful control over your body, it soars.
Well, it flops around a bit on the ground, but it’s funny and it’s fun. When it asks you to add excessive precision to those actions, it crumbles as quickly as his posture. Octodad: Dadliest Catch, much like its own eight-tentacled hero, is best when it’s comfortable being exactly what it is: an oddity in a world of normalcy. When it deviates, though, is when that turns to frustration.
+ From the jokes to the things you do on your own, it is genuinely funny
+ Makes you appreciate how all of the mundane things in your life can actually be quite fun
+ Succeeds at what it wants to do: make you believe an octopus could be a good father
– Tries too hard to become what every other video game
– Too short on the good stuff, too long on the bad stuff
Final Score: 7 out of 10
Game Review: Octodad: Dadliest Catch
Release: January 30, 2014
Developer: Young Horses, Inc.
Available Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, PlayStation 4
Players: singleplayer, co-op