Posted: January 30, 2014
I feel like it's rare to find a video game that's funny. Not the kind of "funny" that Borderlands 2 tried to be, where the development team ham-fistedly shoved in as many internet memes and pop culture references as possible, devoid of any meaningful context. I'm also not talking about an ostentatious satire of modern Polish political dealings (though if you find one of those, let me know immediately). No, the kind of funny I'm talking about is just chaotic, goofball, slapstick comedy. Not a biting social commentary, no gritty world, and no over-abundance of the color brown. It makes you laugh because it's just straight-up silly.
It's no surprise, then, that I adore Octodad: Dadliest Catch (what a great subtitle, by the way). Developed by a team of college students, the original Octodad was a humorous concept but something of a technical mess. That's okay, because it was just a school project that they decided to release to the world. Dadliest Catch is the full realization of the inherently comedic ideas: You're an octopus moonlighting as a human man, trying to hide from your human family the fact that you are an octopus. You go about mundane, inconspicuous human activites such as mowing the lawn, making coffee, and grilling hamburgers with the kind of stunning precision one would expect from an octopus. If you're not already sold, then I don't know what to tell you.
The controls are loose and imprecise in a way that really feels like you're trying to control a bipedal octopus-man, but they're also consistant in a way that keeps the player from feeling any lack of agency over Octodad's actions. The ragdoll physics of Octodad's body only serve to add a level of awkwardness to everything you're trying to do. Within the first five minutes of gameplay, I accidentally found myself completely wrapped around a floor lamp, writhing on the floor like an octopus wrapped about a lamp. I tried to think of a better analogy, but I'm pretty sure you can imagine that situation. I was also laughing hysterically at the ridiculous situation Octodad had gotten himself into.
Technicallly, this game is pretty impressive. It's very well optimised, with a consistantly high framerate on my admittedly below-average PC. The art style is cartoony and clean, and all of the colors pop like a Technicolor movie. It's a world totally suited to Octodad's wacky hijinks. The non-octopus characters are a pleasant surprise as well: they're caricatures of some modern personality tropes such as the overly cynical journalist or the too-smart-for-her-age daughter. One character I particularly enjoyed was the chef, but I'll refrain from spoiling those moments here.
Now, normally I dislike reference-based humor. I feel like it's never done well, because it's just shoved in your face as if to say, "Look as this! We know about that thing you know about! Aren't we timely/clever? LOOK AT OUR RELEVANCE!" Octodad: Dadliest Catch makes some pretty direct references to other indie games. For example, in the supermarket level, there's a table at the back with a breakfast cereal that is a Minecraft reference. It's not right in your face, and you might even miss it if you look too fast. If you go up and try to grab the block modeled after Minecraft's Creeper enemies, it'll briefly flash and then explode in a small cloud of smoke. It's not subtle, per se, but it's not trying to rub its relevance in your face. I really appreciate that quality, and the entire game is sprinkled with similar little touches like that.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch has been in the spotlight since its huge appearance on stage at the PlayStation 4 conference at E3 2013. Since then, the hype has been steadily growing, all culminating in a final release which absolutely delivers on everything I ever wanted Octodad to be. Young Horses makes an incredible debut with a technically solid, gut-bustingly funny video game. I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with Octodad: Dadliest Catch, and I can't wait to see what's next.