Publisher/developer: Young Horses Format: PC (version tested), PS4 Release: Out now (PC), March (PS4)
The gag’s a decent one: Octodad is an octopus living among humans, who accept him as their own so long as he’s wearing a suit. Irrespective of his suckered arms and suspiciously poor coordination, our hero lives a reasonable life, having somehow taken a wife and spawned two kids. Best not to ask how that last bit came about, but then Octodad: Dadliest Catch asks you to overlook an awful lot more than plot holes.
Octodad’s controls are best thought of as like Bennett Foddy’s slapstick athletics game QWOP in a 3D space. Squeezing either trigger lifts the corresponding leg, which you manipulate with the left stick. When standing still, the left stick moves your right arm, the right stick raises and lowers it, and RB grabs the nearest object. It’s simple in theory, but being an invertebrate, Octodad is at the constant mercy of his limbs. Walk in long strides and his head and body lurch around with the shifting momentum. He doesn’t grab and push door handles so much as tether himself to them and hope. It’s clear that our paternal cephalopod is built neither for speed nor grace, so it’s all the more baffling that developer Young Horses soon starts asking for both.
Things start out well enough, with the first half of the game’s two-hour runtime making great hay of its physical comedy. You’ll get dressed for your wedding, flinging gifts to dislodge a tie from a stained-glass window, then flop your way to your waiting bride down an aisle cruelly dotted with banana skins. A stint as the doting father sees you spill half a container of milk on the walk from the kitchen to your daughter’s waiting cup. Everything goes horribly wrong at every turn, of course, but it’s supposed to. By wrestling with controls that are cumbersome by design, you just about make it through, and have a fine old time of it.
Octodad’s slapstick elicits plenty of laughs early on, but frustration sets in halfway through its two-hour runtime.
Then it all falls apart. An aquarium visit involves a tortuous series of minigames in an old-fashioned amusement arcade. Octodad’s controls are meant to be imprecise, so a demand that we throw six basketballs through a small hoop sparks ten minutes of wearying frustration. Then comes stealth, of all things, and by the end you’re tiptoeing across rafters that break under heavy footsteps and dodging projectiles thrown by the antagonist, a chef of unidentifiably foreign origin who accosts you at the end of missions for a scripted chase where a single mistake means a restart.
It’s hard to tell quite how things went so wrong. Lacking the confidence to revel in its protagonist’s clumsiness for the entire runtime, Young Horses takes Octodad’s comical core mechanics to places they have no right to go. QWOP, remember, only gave you an athletics track, and with good reason.