Some games rely on compelling stories to drive your way through challenges and adventures. Others let you make interesting decisions, be them strategic or narrative, and let that process shape the surrounding elements. There’s a third group, though: games that pile all their hopes and dreams onto one fresh element, one mechanical hook. Games that live and die by the assumption that you’ll like that one thing as much as the developers thought you would.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch may be the most distilled version of that third type of game, and that’s okay, because it’s the best kind of silly.
In Octodad, you’re a loving father and husband, just trying to do the things your family needs you to do and get through the day. You are also secretly an octopus. How exactly you’re not getting noticed is never fully explained, but that’s probably for the best, as the explanation would make no sense anyway. The hook here is how you control your appendages. Octodad’s suit bundles them up into “arms” and “legs,” and you typically control one at a time to get to where you need to go. The game supports multiple control schemes, but it seems like a (360 or PS4) controller is the way to go; you use the sticks to move, and shoulder buttons serve as limb selector modifiers.
It’s impressive to pull off a particularly elegant maneuver when performing your fatherly tasks, but the fun here is in the failure. You’re going to knock stuff over a lot, and it’s great. The game’s best a-ha moments come from completing an objective in a particularly weird way, as you stumble past intention into new ideas. Didn’t mean to throw that? Whoops! Oh, well, that’s okay! It worked out anyway. In that way, the game best functions as a sandbox with nominal objectives.
Where Octodad starts to falter a bit is when it tries to enforce some difficulty. The early levels are the most fun, but later ones introduce a stealth mechanic that, while giving the game some much-needed challenge, can be just a bit too punishing with the protagonist’s whimsical physics. You also deal with an enemy of sorts: a chef, who aggressively tries to expose your fraud and possibly also cook you. Boss encounters are less enjoyable than they could be, but they do give levels some sort of structure. It doesn’t help that those last challenges leave a bad taste in your mouth just as you’re finishing up, but thankfully the game’s final encounter is a refreshing return to form (but still difficult enough to feel like an accomplishment).
While you’re flailing around in a mostly-futile attempt to get anything done, you’ll occasionally hear from members of your family, and the writing here is well-done. You explore a surprising amount of Octodad’s narrative, from his first encounter with his future wife to a resolution of sorts to the game’s core trouble, allowing you to get truly invested in his fate. Each family member has a distinct personality in just a few quips, and we’d love to spend more time with each one of them. Unfortunately, that’s a common feeling with Octodad: the sense that things wrap up just a bit too quickly.
Beating Dadliest Catch only takes around three hours, and while there are hidden ties to collect to entice you to jump back in, it’s a shame that there isn’t another environment or two in which to helplessly meander about. There’s Steam Workshop support, which is a nice idea! It would work better with objectives to progress things along, and maybe the community will rally and craft new stories in the Octodad universe, but as of now what we’re seeing is mostly experimental.
If you want to add just a bit more chaos to your life, you should definitely check out the game’s co-op mode. Up to four players can split control of Octodad’s limbs, making getting anything done an amusing exercise in coordination. Is that not enough? If you choose, the game will randomize who’s controlling what after each completed objective, so no one’s complaining about a bad role for too long, and everyone’s keeping alert for the next control curveball. That also makes it a fun party game, as even skilled players are kept off-kilter and it’s just as amusing to spectate as to play.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch leans heavily into its core premise, but once you start playing, that’s exactly what you’ll want it to do. If you’re ready to not take yourself so seriously, it’s exactly the sort of romp that can make for a memorable evening with friends or without.
Pros: Core concept is a blast, writing is surprisingly fresh
Cons: Game ramps up awkwardly and ends too soon