Back in 2010 a little known freeware title by the name of Octodad was developed by a group of students. Built using the ever-evolving game development software Unity, Octodad was a fine example of what small development teams could conjure up just by using their home computers. Since then a sequel was born, with its appearance on the PlayStation 4 arguably being the first time it caught the public eye. Now, Wii U owners finally have the opportunity to jump on-board Young Horses' revered title. So was it worth the wait or is there something fishy with the Wii U port?
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is a game about an octopus who manages to live the life of an average family man whilst keeping his status as a form of cephalopoda species a secret to all, including his own wife and kids. It's as crazy as it sounds and the game has been designed to make simple everyday things the most strenuous of tasks. The game starts with Octodad in a church, dressed in a suit and preparing himself before he marries his future wife-to-be. At this point it's clear to see that this is an octopus in a suit, but as he makes his way towards the altar, you begin to realise that his partner and friends are oblivious to this striking detail.
And so begins Octodad's constant battle to try and fit in and conform, so that he doesn't get noticed and sent back to the aquarium where he came from. As if by pure coincidence his wife, Scarlet, is adamant that the whole family visits their local aquarium for an enjoyable day out. Octodad does what he can to prolong the visit, but eventually caves in to her request. There are a number of different environments that make up Dadliest Catch, and a common objective through the game is to go unnoticed by the general public by acting out ordinary tasks in the most ordinary of ways.
You'll soon come to discover that tasks such as mowing the lawn, purchasing pizza from the supermarket and opening a door are likely to catch the attention of passers by due to Octodad's flapping tentacles and constant blubbering. There's also the slight problem of an over eccentric chef named Fujimoto, who for whatever reason has it in for the protagonist. As part of his relentless pursuit to kill our hero, he also wishes to reveal his true identity to his family – as if his murderous campaign to break up his family wasn't enough.
Controlling Octodad's arms, legs and limbs is done by pressing the shoulder buttons, whilst the analogue is used to control which direction he moves. A big part of controlling him involves picking up and grabbing items. This is, quite deliberately, the most difficult element of the control system and the most frustrating for it. For example holding down the right shoulder trigger gives the player control of Octodad's right arm and the analogue sticks are used to moves his arms up, down, backwards and forwards.
It's interesting and worth pointing out that this isn't a broken control system - Young Horses, Inc.has purposefully done this to put the gamer in the shoes of an Octopus who struggles to do what most of us consider to be basic jobs. Yet somehow, behind the character's clumsy exterior and the developer's insistence on creating a traumatic experience for both Octodad and the player, Dadliest Catch is a charming title with a great cast of characters. Although it's not a huge game and will likely take around 3 hours to finish (including a couple of free DLC levels that come included), it doesn't take long to feel sympathetic towards Octodad's limitations and to build an emotional attachment to him. Empathy is the key component towards driving the player into wanting to help Octodad, so it was always going to be vital that he was a lovable and relatable character.
On a technical level, Dadliest Catch suffers from slowdown throughout on Wii U and this is most noticeable during autosave sections. There is one section in particular when Octodad is attempting to reconnect some cables into their plug sockets, and the slowdown and framerate was so bad for us that it was almost unplayable. It's not enough to ruin the game, but it's a negative on what is otherwise a well presented title.
There's also the inclusion of a multiplayer mode, which allows up to 4 players to take ownership of one of Octodad's limbs, ensuring teamwork is king – imagine what it must be like to participate in a three-legged race and it will give an insight into the planning and constant communication needed to make it work. It's utter delirium and exists for no other reason other than the love of laughter.
As a game, Octodad seems less interested in entertaining and is more intent on taking the player through a journey, and by its own design can be an incredibly stressful affair. Break it down and you'll see why: challenges involve shopping, chopping wood and pouring yourself a cup of coffee. Add this on top of a few technical hiccups, such as slowdown and some drops in framerates, and you have a middle of the road title.
However, this game is all about portraying life's bigger picture and would appear to be one big analogy for some of life's biggest challenges and the problems some of us face, depending on how you interpret it. That in itself is good art and also where Octodad is a success. The real fun lies in seeking your own meaning behind this bizarre title and helping Octodad cross the metaphorical finish lines that seem to plague his every turn - no matter how mundane the challenges are or how taxing it may be to guide him through life, he's a character you'll want to see succeed.