English actor Edmund Kean's last words allegedly were: "dying is easy; comedy is hard." It's obvious that Kean wasn't secretly an octopus pretending to be a human, otherwise his final words might have been "comedy is easy; pouring a glass of milk is hard." Actually, they would have been a bunch of blurbs and gargles because octopuses (and yes it's octopuses not octopi because octopus isn't a latin word) can't talk. But in Octodad: Dadliest catch, you actually are playing as an octopus pretending to be a human, and the result is an incredibly charming, albeit incredibly brief journey.
Dadliest Catch, a sequel to the freeware Octodad released a few years back on PC (you can download and play that version here), occupies a relatively new genre of games that make it difficult to do basic things by implementing intentionally clunky controls. Though that might sound infuriating, it can make for absolutely brilliant comedy--trying to run in QWOP or perform a heart transplant in Surgeon Simulator is damn near impossible thanks to complicated controls that act as an intentionally ridiculous wall between you and the action. But unlike others in the genre, Octodad: Dadliest Catch actually makes sense in a weird way, because you're a god damn octopus wearing a suit. Because of that, it's not annoying when you pathetically fail to mow the lawn; it's hilarious, whimsical, and totally fitting.
There's a fine line between "short but sweet" and "simply too short," and Octodad leans towards the latter. At $15 it's around the price of a film which, too, would last around the same amount of time, but with games often providing double that length for that amount of money (or less), it feels as though a lower price point might have helped make it feel like a better value. That, or it could have been longer--either way, you won't be happy with how much is there, for how much it costs.
You can't just "walk" in Octodad. Instead, you need to swing your tentacles around one at a time like you're trying to run without feeling in your legs. Moving your arms is just as difficult, and picking things up? Crazy difficult at first. The more you play the more natural it feels, but it never gets to the point where the relatively simple objective of "Chop firewood" is anything less than a Herculean task. Eventually, when stealth sections are mixed in, things do become more complicated than picking things up and putting them down, but the gameplay doesn't really evolve past the humor inherent in the core concept of the game.
But when everything is a struggle, everything is comedic. One of the funniest parts of the game? A section in a grocery store where I needed to climb up on something. That's it. It was one of those supermarket displays where a bunch of things were stacked up, and I needed to climb it, and I was crying laughing. I slowly lifted one tentacle with one analog stick, and then slowly put it onto the first box, and then slowly lifted up the other tentacle with the other analog stick, and then slowly put it on the next box--and then I fell down and needed to start over.
But there's a problem--just as it starts to ramp up, and just as you wrap your head around how to control Octodad through increasingly ludicrous situations, the credits roll. There's nothing wrong with a short game--some of the titles on our best games ever list clock in at between three and four hours in length--but at just under two hours, Octodad feels outright anemic. Another hour and one or two additional locations would have helped it tremendously, but instead, Dadliest Catch's pacing feels off. There's some replay value in co-op (which has players controlling Octodad together), collectibles, and the promise of user-made areas, but what's there just isn't enough.
Dadliest Catch is a slapstick comedy; you're basically playing as a cephalopodan version of Charlie Chaplin, skidding down a banana peel-filled hallway as crazy music plays and an angry chef chases you while screaming about how he wants to turn you into calamari. And at the same time, it's an endearing and--shockingly--relatable story about an octopus just trying to be a loving husband and father. It's engaging throughout, and the basic concept is so stupid and fun that it feels as though almost any situation would have made for a compelling and fun gameplay--making it even more heartbreaking when things come to a close far too soon.
This game was reviewed on PC.