Originally starting out as a Windows freeware title made by a group of Delaware University students, the original Octodad made a splash on the indie scene back in 2010. Many of the group would go on to form developer Young Horses and make its sequel, subtitled 'Dadliest Catch', appearing first on PS4 and PC in 2014 and eventually making its way to other platforms including the Wii U in October 2015. 'Octodad' and its sequel won many a heart during development, with a mix of its bold, vivid art style, a completely bonkers character and a subtle commentary on the monotony of modern life. The game's release however, was met with both praise and criticism in equal measure. After appearing on mobile devices last year, Octodad: Dadliest Catch now comes to the Switch.
Marrying into a family that is completely oblivious to anything peculiar, you take on the role of husband and father in a typical suburban household. After the game's introduction / tutorial segment that takes place on your wedding day, you soon settle down into your bog standard lifestyle performing mundane, routine tasks such as mowing the lawn, trips to the supermarket and trying to keep the kids occupied. This might be a good time to reiterate that you are, in fact, an octopus, as well as a father and husband. Don't forget that, because it's important. The antagonist, Chef Fujimoto, knows of this deception, and is out to expose our beloved hero to his family.
The sitcom-like set up and writing, along with the decent voice acting and zany visual humour, is what gives the game an endearing quality. Balancing the absurd with the sincere, the 'fish out of water' (pardon the sort-of pun) storyline is objectively ridiculous, but it will be down to personal taste whether the player embraces the craziness and enjoys it. There is also a quirky innocence to how the family interacts and the tasks you have to perform - set pieces that involve reminiscing about dating and skits entertaining the children are especially heartfelt. While Octodad himself can't speak as such, his thoughts and opinions (made up of gargles and such like) are conveyed by an array of witty 'translation' subtitles.
While some tasks such as weeding the garden or making coffee might sound easy enough, performing these tasks in your octopine form is very far from straightforward, which is where Octodad starts to struggle for the player as well as the protagonist.
Controlling your character is one of the most unique but also divisive aspects of Octodad. Although motion controls have been implemented in a previous console version of the game, they have been omitted for the Switch version. Operating each limb independently, you'll use a combination of the left and right trigger to raise or lower your 'legs', the sticks to move your arms and R to grab / let go of highlighted objects. You'll skulk, slide, weave and crash into your surroundings on a regular basis.
The early stages of the game consist of fetch-based tasks and making it through a particular area, and there are also three hidden neckties to find. The continually updating mission structure will have you eventually expanding into more skill-based objectives, performing anything from winning a fairground-type minigame to stealthily evading scientists or making your way through an area without knocking anything over or arousing suspicion. Be wary though, because performing certain tasks badly will make a purple meter fill up, resulting in a game over. Whatever you are doing takes a varying degree of perseverance, coordination and patience in order to feel like you've reached any kind of proficiency.
It is understandable if not entirely excusable that the disorientation is the selling point - it is after all part of the slapstick humour and challenge. It is equally justified to suggest that it's where the majority of the frustration with the game stems from. Any time that accuracy is required the game descends into a spiral of infuriating trial and error; it gets worse when you deviate from a flat surface. While the ladders and staircases you traverse aren't complex in their architecture, they do require a degree of rhythm and persistence, and change depending on the camera angle. Something as simple as picking up a supermarket object while not getting the attention of a fellow customer is nowhere near as intuitive as it could be. There is one clever (if slightly obtuse) environmental 'puzzle' early on, but the game then seems to follow a familiar pattern of retrieving objects and making your way from checkpoint to checkpoint, rather than experimenting with more ways that Octodad's form could be manipulated to perform varied tasks.
The character model of Octodad himself also seems to judder slightly and the camera can behave erratically, especially in more confined spaces. There were a few instances where the character would get stuck to the point of having to restart from the last checkpoint. Reading the game's flow regarding movement is certainly something that takes some getting used to, and there is a degree of inconsistency in the quality of the level design.
There is also a local 'drop in, drop out' two to four player cooperative mode, where each player takes a Joy-Con and control of a limb (or number of limbs) in order to progress. The Joy-Con are used in a traditional, sideways manner and you can toggle the amount of limbs you control. Placing the emphasis even more on coordination, rhythm and momentum with fellow players, it is a raucously entertaining if potentially unproductive jaunt, but the limbs are colour coded to make things easier. Roulette mode allows for randomising who controls which limb after an objective is completed.
Once the novelty and the wackiness have worn off, you are left with a short and sometimes haphazard experience that treads an incredibly fine (and wobbly) line between hilarity and frustration. While kids will love the simple, bold, bright cartoon-like characters and physical humour, older players will likely feel that they are constantly at odds with the game's controls and become immune to its charms. If you haven't experienced Octodad before it's worth checking out, but be cautious - it will make you giggle as well as probably stretch your patience.