It’s a game where you’re an octopus in a business suit, inhabiting a world in which everyone, including your wife and kids, is delicately unaware that you are an octopus in a business suit. If that doesn’t infer the general tone of Octodad: Dadliest Catch, I’m not sure what will. Originally built by a couple students back in 2010, Octodad is meant to befuddle, beguile, flabbergast, and delight. It is more gag than game, a borderline troll job with its heart in the right place. Whether that’s worth your monetary investment really comes down to your particular definition of genius.
Octodad is comedy. Its story is simple: you are the father figure in a classic American household, and you are also an octopus. You must mow the lawns, chop the firewood, and buy the groceries. Outside of a few marine biologists and an angry sushi chef, nobody in the world recognizes your latent aquatic nature. Because of this, Octodad is characterized as a deeply stressed-out creature, constantly terrified that his true identity will be unceremoniously revealed to his blissfully ignorant family. This draws a very specific line in the sand. Do you think an octopus romping around a suburban neighborhood is funny? If that conceit doesn’t grab you, then Octodad doesn’t have much else to offer.
Personally, I can’t help but be a little bit charmed. The controls are intentionally unreliable, which means your octopus will spend a lot of time swinging its tentacles around the map, causing a whole bunch of misfortune. This is especially hilarious towards the beginning of the game, when you’re instructed to walk down a very narrow aisle at a wedding. Needless to say, Octodad has a lot of trouble when it comes to that level of precision. This actually turns him into a fairly sympathetic character, since all Octodad wants is to blend in, but he seriously can’t help but make a mess out of everything. You could read that as a broader commentary on paranoia, and how sometimes it feels like our mildest miscalculations are being watched by the whole room, but that sort of joyless interpretation robs Octodad of its chaotic temper. The developers make Octodad grill burgers because they likely think it’s really funny to watch an octopus attempt to grill burgers. I’m inclined to agree.
There are other, smaller gags, mostly coming in the package of one-liners or secluded references. If you’re the sort of person who will laugh at PewDiePie being on a box of cereal, then you’ll be home here. Nothing really exceeds the fundamental delight of Octodad’s carnage, but the jokes are good enough to tide you over. There is, however, a regrettable stretch at the end of the narrative where Octodad somehow becomes a bona fide stealth game. Suddenly the floaty controls that worked for so much humor now cause a ton of frustration. It seems weird to critique a game for the moment it actually adapts a sense of traditional gameplay, but it really doesn’t work in the context of Octodad. The stealth sequences destroy the color and squash the momentum of an experience that really didn’t need much beyond the original conceit.
Don’t get me wrong, Octodad is a ton of fun. It’s got a self-aware irreverence—call it the Katamari factor—that you usually only find in indie games. That being said, with games like that, I usually focus on the stand-out moments, like the big reveals in Gone Home, the progressive decay of Limbo, or even the silly mysteries of something as slight as Frog Fractions. Octodad doesn’t have anything like that. It’s a giddy little glide full of heart and genuine goodwill, but never manifesting into anything more than a distraction.
Octodad: Deadliest Catch was designed by Young Horses. It is available for the PC, Mac, and Linux.
Luke Winkie is a writer and former pizza maker from San Diego, currently residing in Austin. He writes about music, sports and videogames for The Austin Chronicle, Red Bull Music, Myspace, The Village Voice and Salon.