Octodad is a doting father and loving husband who mows the lawn, does the family's grocery shopping, and cooks the kids' dinners. He's also an octopus. That's the actually pretty funny premise behind Dadliest Catch, a physics playground and sort-of-puzzle game by new indie studio Young Horses, Inc. The joke is that even though he's literally an octopus in a suit, flopping around clumsily and knocking things over, no one ever acknowledges it. To his inexplicably human family, and everyone else, he's just a regular guy.
The first two levels are brilliant. Your tasks are mundane - weed the garden, grill burgers on the barbecue, pour your daughter a glass of milk, make coffee - but it doesn't matter, because you're an octopus. You control four of Octodad's limbs independently, which are ostensibly his arms and legs. Something as simple as opening the fridge, picking up the milk, carrying it into the living room, and pouring into the glass is rendered hilarious by his lack of a spine and wildly flailing appendages. Rooms are reduced to piles of rubble as you crash through them.
This should have been the whole game. Domestic drudgery made funny by the presence of an ungainly cephalopod. But then, presumably under pressure to make it feel more like a 'game', the developers start giving you objectives: solving simple puzzles, completing infuriating mini-games, and even a few stealth sections. Yes, really. It's not long before the laughter stops and the swearing begins, and the game goes from fun, slapstick comedy to maddening chore.
It's a shame, because those early moments, including a bit where Octodad has to 'walk' down the aisle at his wedding, are genuinely hilarious. The addition of ways to fail, like suspicious marine biologists that have to be avoided, or people getting suspicious if you smash the level up too much, feel unnecessary, and spoil the joke. Trying to drag Octodad up an escalator going in the wrong direction, or climbing a stack of tumbling boxes, only adds to the torment.
You can't fault its originality, though. It's a game bursting with colour and personality, although the chirpy music does begin to grate after a while. It's hard not to love Octodad as he stumbles through life, and the levels are filled with cute references to indie games and developers. I always feel bad about giving games that try something new a hard time, but playing Octodad feels a bit like I'm being simultaneously told a joke and kicked in the nuts.
I can't help but think that there's something dark beneath Octodad's whimsy. The way he crashes around his house - falling into things, breaking his kids' toys, leaving destruction in his wake - and the way his wife patiently smiles through it all. It could be that the whole game is, in fact, an allegory for alcoholism; a story about a dangerously drunken father and a family too frightened to confront him about his problem. Or maybe he's just a fucking octopus.
Starts out funny, but quickly becomes frustrating. A wonderfully weird and original concept that falls flat like its jelly-limbed hero.