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Octodad: Dadliest Catch Review: Flailing Physics Fun
To his family Octodad is a perfectly normal father, albeit one who inexplicably leaves a trail of destruction in his wake; but he is a man with a secret. A secret so cleverly hidden that it could only be unraveled by a professional chef, or perhaps some marine biologists. For Octodad is in fact an octopus, blending so successfully into human society that he’s married and, somehow, has a human family.
This is Octodad: Dadliest Catch, the new Kickstarter-funded, physics-based, sort-of puzzler by indie developers Young Horses. You play as the titular cephlapodan patriarch as he attempts to live in peace while keeping his true identity hidden from society in general and from his increasingly suspicious wife in particular.
The cartoony visuals are crisp and make navigating the game world that much easier, something which can’t be said of the controls, although that’s rather the point. Each of Octodad’s limbs is controlled individually, however ‘controlled’ is perhaps a loose term for the amount of sway the player holds over his movements. Despite this, the physics are impressive and Octodad’s flailing can’t help but put a smile on your face. Although I experienced a few tiny glitches in my playthrough, normally involving Octodad clipping through the scenery, I never had to restart a level because of them.
The first few levels are massively entertaining; attempting to complete basic household tasks often results in a whirlwind of thrashing limbs, and the casual chit-chat of his family as Octodad systematically demolishes their house reinforces the joke that he is apparently blending in just fine. However, the precision of control expected to complete objectives in the later levels becomes increasingly unrealistic, leading to a slew of frustrating game overs.
The level of difficulty in Dadliest Catch treads a narrow line (something its protagonist couldn’t even contemplate) between being just difficult enough to cause plenty of, genuinely hilarious, physics-based chaos and being so frustrating that you start hankering for some calamari. Unfortunately this is a line it awkwardly flails over in its final act. With the introduction of stealth sections and increasingly difficult platforming, the controls become maddening rather than amusing as Octodad careens off in the wrong direction for the fiftieth insta-death in a row.
It could be argued that this is another example of an indie game daring to be more challenging than a mainstream product could, in the manner of the excellent Super Meat Boy. However, there are steps that need to be taken to ensure that a section that requires multiple retries doesn’t get frustrating: just a few more seconds of waiting between death and respawn can tip the scales, as can being forced to listen to the same dialogue over and over.
The storyline revolves around a trip to the aquarium and although each area is very open the story itself is extremely linear, with the only choice being the order in which you complete the objectives. The primary antagonist is a chef who has sussed Octodad’s true identity and is determined to reveal him to the world (and also make him into sushi). Although the main storyline is over quickly, the game comes with Steam Workshop support, which I expect will be focused on community-made levels and skins. This will add some much needed replayability and hopefully more levels like those from the first act rather than from the infuriatingly fiddly end.
A review copy of the game was provided by Young Horses, Inc.