I’m all about indie development, I think it opens up avenues for games that the large companies wouldn’t touch with a 49-and-a-half foot pole. Games that can end up being amazing. Games that need to be made. Games like Octodad, for PC and Mac.
Developed by a group of students at DePaul University, Chicago, Octodad is a sort of puzzle adventure game where the player controls an octopus posing as a loving husband and father of two.
The controls for Octodad are designed to feel a little unwieldy, replicating in-game what it would actually be like as an octopus pretending to be a human. A little unwieldy, mind you; if you’re used to playing games on the PC then the controls are actually fairly intuitive, with two separate modes, one for legs and one for arms, providing a good transition from walking around the house to picking up objects. For players who aren’t as familiar with PC gaming, though, the controls can certainly be a little tricky at first, but once you get the hang of switching from one mode to the other, roaming around and grabbing things should start to feel like second nature- but that’s when the real fun begins.
The core game-play for Octodad focuses on controlling the titular suburban hero through a series of increasingly difficult tasks, some of which can get fairly difficult indeed. Navigating your children’s bedroom becomes an obstacle course, and climbing a ladder never seemed so daunting. The tasks are hard, but they’re manageable, and there’s something undeniably fun about watching Octodad inevitably complete them all in a way I struggle to describe. Gracefully? No. Masterfully? Probably not.
Gameplay in Octodad is fun, but the story is where the real meat of the game is. Underneath the hilarious concept and the witty dialogue from Octodad’s criminally oblivious family, there’s a lot of touching emotional content in the way Octodad interacts with his loved ones. Alongside the mundane household tasks there’s also a feeling of suspense perpetuated by the recurring appearance of an ominous sushi chef who seems to want nothing more than to ruin Octodad’s day. This adds up brilliantly throughout the first three quarters of the game, working towards a climactic finale that provides a fitting end for an exemplary piece of entertainment. Not all the questions are answered, but that’s ok, as it allows the player to make up their own mind about the motivations for our squishy cephalopod star.
Octodad is, in truth, an amazing game: there’s fun, there’s adventure, there’s romance, and there’s mystery; what more could you want? Honestly, though, the best thing about Octodad is that it serves as proof of concept for a second, even better game…
Octodad: Dadliest Catch:
As the debut game for Young Horses, a company founded by some of the students who worked on the original Octodad, Dadliest Catch, much like its predecessor, centers around an octopus as he tries to blend in with society and hide his true identity from his family.
Where the first Octodad feels like a prototype, Octodad: Dadliest Catch can and should be considered the finished game, fully fleshed out and complete with a lengthy and captivating story, unlockables and achievements, and refined graphics and controls. Being an actual full game this time around, Dadliest Catch does have an actual price-tag associated with it, costing £11.99 on Steam. It may seem a bit expensive for an indie title, especially after its precursor was free, but for the size and quality of game that it is I think most would consider it a fair deal.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch takes the concept from the first game to whole new levels, serving as both a prequel and sequel to the original, all the while acting as a stand-alone title for people to enjoy even if they haven’t played the first game. The game-play is much the same as the original Octodad- in fact, it’s practically identical, with the player still controlling Octodad through multiple series of tasks- the main differences that come with Dadliest Catch are the vastly improved controls for Octodad, making moving around feel much smoother and more natural, as well as the increased variety of environments and things to do. The areas are larger and the tasks often more complex, giving most of the 10 levels (11 counting the tutorial) a life and experience of their own, and although one or two levels still fall into the same trap from the first game of being just a quick series of minigames, in general there’s enough variety between tasks to make sure you never feel like you’re doing the same things over and over again.
Story-wise, Octodad: Dadliest Catch moves throughout a detailed and well-written plot as the game progresses from one level to another, taking you through Octodad’s hopes, dreams, fears and memories. You get a real sense for the characters of your family, too, and their individual personalities shine through as Octodad interacts with them, both actively during game-play and passively in the form of background conversations and comments that appear as the player explores.
Importantly, there’s also a deeper sense of emotional involvement with Dadliest Catch, not just in the more involved story-line, but also in the ways Octodad is portrayed. We see more of his emotions through the improved graphics, from love and happiness to fear and anger, right down into the core of a truly multidimensional character. I think many of us can identify with Octodad on some level, whether in hiding things from the people we love and having to cope with that, or feeling like all the world is watching and judging you. Perhaps being so relatable is what makes playing as Octodad so enjoyable, as we walk around in his shoes (so to speak) he shows us that, in spite of all his troubles, he still manages to enjoy life, playing with his kids and spending time with his wife. Reading-too-much-into-a-video-game aside, Dadliest Catch’s ability to maintain a sense of joviality while touching on some serious emotional issues makes for a complex and entertaining story with all the level of depth you’d expect from a novel or film.
I’d be remiss if I left out one of the best things about Octodad: Dadliest Catch: it’s soundtrack. The music from the original Octodad was pretty good, catchy and jazzy, if a little repetitive. The music from Dadliest Catch, on the other hand, is brilliant! Each track reflects perfectly the scene it’s associated with, from a happy, homey tune in your garden to a haunting, yet romantic theme for Octodad’s wife. In an industry where a soundtrack can either make or break a game, the music of Octodad: Dadliest Catch definitely does the former, drawing the player further into the game and adding even more depth to its already charming world. Not to mention it contains one of the best theme songs of any game, ever…
In sum, there are two things to take away from this review. The first is that the original Octodad is 100% worth downloading. It’s a great game that won’t take you too long to finish and it’s completely free. In fact, you should go ahead and download it now. Seriously, I can wait…
Have you downloaded it yet? Ok, good. The second thing to take away depends on your experience of the first Octodad. If you liked it, great! Get the second one. It doesn’t cost much and is everything that made the original Octodad great and so much more; it’s definitely worth considering even if the first game didn’t blow you away. If, however, you couldn’t stand the whacky story and sometimes-difficult controls of the original, then perhaps its successor isn’t for you; maybe hold on to your money, be proud of yourself for having tried something different, and revel in the knowledge that it didn’t cost you a dime.