One of the PlayStation 4's first-announced indie games, Octodad: Dadliest Catch, launched this week. Octodad first appeared as a title slated to appear on Sony's newest console during its E3 press conference as part of an eight-game indie showcase. Although it released on PC in January earlier this year, PS4 is the only console to host this uniquely strange game.
A REAL FAMILY GUY
Octodad is quite a fellow; an anthropomorphic octopus, he inexplicably lives among humans (he's even married with human kids). No one seems to notice that he can barely walk and only responds in blubbers and blurbs (well, let's say that most people don't notice). It's charming, hilarious, and provides the bulk of the comedic material throughout the game.
Part of Octodad's appeal is that he's such a genuinely likable fellow: he's a good (if slow and clumsy) husband and a devoted father. The dialogue from your family members (and, later, others) help you invest in Octodad's attempts to carry out a normal life. It's all so disarmingly nonchalant and ho-hum that helping Octodad "play it cool" becomes a major motivation for making you want to play the game well.
CONTROL AS GAMEPLAY
In most games, the central gameplay hook revolves around combat or exploration. These are tried and true techniques to give players "something to do" over the span of a game. In Octodad, however, there are no bad guys to stomp and the environments aren't huge or immersive. Rather, you will spend your time battling the controls to navigate very compact portions of the environment.
You see, our titular hero is not a very coordinated creature. In fairness, he's an octopus attempting to wear a blue suit and walk around on land like a bipedal human. What this means for you, the player, is that you'll be struggling with your controller just as much as Octodad is struggling onscreen. This brilliant bit of meta game design is what makes Octodad special, but it may not be for everyone, as it requires some tricky eye-hand coordination.
You'll be using the thumbsticks to control horizontal arm movement (left stick) and vertical arm movement (right stick). L2 and R2 raise and lower your legs (featuring a great implementation of the PS4's analog triggers), and R1 lets Octodad use his suction cups to grab items. Depending on your comfort with a traditional gamepad and your spatial awareness level, this will either make a certain amount of sense or be a complete barrier to entry.
I would suspect most people will land somewhere in the middle of that spectrum, which is the sweet spot for a fun time spent wrangling with the hilariously clumsy control scheme.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
The developers have crafted scenarios so completely mundane (make coffee, get some milk, grill burgers, etc.) that, in any other game, you would likely stop playing out of boredom within minutes. In Octodad, though, these tasks become concentrated challenges because you're constantly trying to maintain your cover as a normal, human father.
To incentivize players to play carefully, Octodad has a meter that fills up every time you do something that might blow your cover: knocking over items in the environment, bumping into other people, etc. Basically anything that screams "Hey, I'm actually an octopus parading as a human!"
This gives the game a slight stealth mechanic, which is further reinforced by on-screen indicators that let you know whether or not anyone can see you (the game only penalizes you if you're visible to a human). This probably the closest thing to a drunk simulator in video game form; you've just gotta "maintain."
However, with a full physics engine behind nearly every item in the environment, you can have some serious fun if you ignore the rules, so thankfully there is a "Free Play" mode specifically for this reason. I enjoyed the confines of trying to go unnoticed, but you can feed your destructive side with free reign to make a huge mess with your tentacles.
VERDICT: WORTH YOUR TIME
There really aren't many (maybe any?) experiences out there like Octodad. It's not a graphical showcase for your next-gen console, but the real-time physics mixed with the simple cartoon-y art style make it a different kind of visual treat. There is also a co-op mode that I didn't get a chance to try out, but other sites have covered that.
But the real reason you'll want to download Octodad is the outlandish way you control this lovable octopus. It's organically funny and completely charming in a way that most scripted comedy games could only dream of. If you're a PS Plus subscriber, you'll even get a discount ($11.99 instead of $14.99) until April 29th, so that's just one more reason to take the plunge!