By Leo Stevenson
The amount of fun to be had with Octodad: Dadliest Catch is inverse to the amount of time spent playing it. What begins as an absurd, colourful cartoon romp eventually devolves into the most tedious of tired videogame conventions. It's a grace then that it only lasts around two hours. You'll not be left wanting those two hours of your life back, but you will be wondering how you so quickly went from laughing to sighing to finally rolling your eyes in boredom and frustration.
Dadliest Catch begins in the most surreal way with the titular character preparing for his wedding, to a human female. Apparently nobody -- except the angry chef, who we'll get to -- has noticed that Octodad is in fact an octopus masquerading as a man. In a hilarious opening sequence players are introduced to the controls and the basic premise. At first the controls are alien and impenetrable, but that feels like the point. Dadliest Catch wants you to struggle to control its main character because it draws its comedy and enjoyment not from success, but from each and every flailing failure and then eventual success.
The left stick controls Octodad's right arm's forward and backwards movement while the right stick controls up and down. Got that? R1 grabs onto object while L2 and R2 are used to move his "legs" respectively. After struggling for the first few minutes the controls quickly reveal themselves as the strangely intuitive beast that they are. Controlling Octodad is never not a struggle mind you, it simply graduates from impossible to controlled chaos.
After changing into his shiny, new wedding suit Octodad must walk down the aisle without arousing the suspicions of the human lookers on. It's quite difficult in the early levels to fail (but not to flail). It's not until the game wears on and the encountered NPCs graduate from neighbour to marine biologist -- with their increased sense of what's "fishy" -- that your likelihood of being discovered is ever a real threat.
It's as the game wears on and introduces more traditional videogame type challenges -- stealth sections and boss fights -- in favour of the absurdist everyday activities featured in the opening levels that Dadliest Catch loses its footing. Walking successfully down the aisle, pouring your daughter -- don't ask -- a glass of milk, grilling burgers, shopping for cereal and waiting in line to purchase a ticket to the aquarium are oddly, the bits of Dadliest Catch that are far and away the most fun. There is absolutely no need for stealth or boss fights. One particuarly egregious sequence about two thirds of the way through requiring the player to press one button repeatedly for at least 5 minutes comes to mind.
The entire concept of Dadliest Catch is so bonkers that it can stand on its own without the need to resort to such tired and worn out conventions. Perhaps the developers thought it needed a little something more to sell it to the masses, or perhaps they felt there needed to be a through line for the protagonist. In either case the latter half of the game largely removes what made it so fun to begin with. There's an obligatory flashback sequence explaining the origins of Octodad and of his rivalry with a chef.
The chef is the only person who is able to see through Octodad's -- admittedly flimsy -- disguise and is obsessed with exposing the cephalopod charlatan. The second half of Dadliest Catch is dedicated to the chef and Octodad's struggle, culminating in a boss fight best forgotten. A much more successful game would have done away with any and all explanations and presented Octodad as an absolute. His existence needs no justification and by focusing on its absurd, non-sequitur elements Dadliest Catch would likely not have come unstuck.
While it may not be a revelation, it's incredibly heartening and encouraging to see games like Dadliset Catch get to spend some time in the spotlight. Sony are heavily investing in the future of independent development with PS4 and so expect to see more like Octodad and his ilk in the future. Not every idea can be a winner, but Dadliest Catch shines a light on the way forward for downloadable and indie titles. So long as developers have faith in their products and don't mistake worn out for well loved then we're only going to see more fun and innovative ideas in the future.