Octodad: Dadliest Catch (for iPad)
Who is Octodad? He’s a loving father, secret octopus, possible drug metaphor, star of an acclaimed 2010 student game, and ambassador of a burgeoning gaming subgenre of comedy through difficult controls. Octodad: Dadliest Catch spruced up the original concept for PCs and the PlayStation 4 last year, and now the cephalopod simulator has wriggled its way onto iOS. Octodad: Dadliest Catch was never more than a modest novelty, and this iPad version ($4.99) is just a port, but the touch controls are a great new method of interacting with Octodad’s wonderfully wacky world.
Nobody Suspects a Thing
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is one of the more successful attempts to make a real game out of purposefully wonky controls and comedic physics. Other examples include ragdoll running game QWOP and the recent adventure in jetpack deaths Piloteer. On paper, Octodad’s fatherly tasks sound easy and almost boring. Mow the lawn, shop for groceries, begrudgingly take your kids to the aquarium. But these seemingly simple goals become gargantuan coordination challenges when performed by a creature with eight slippery tentacles stuffed inside a suit.
Describing Octodad’s control scheme is almost as confusing as using it. In arm mode, you use different gestures to manipulate the position of your wiggling appendage and tap to latch onto objects. Unlocking a door or slipping a wedding ring onto your wife’s finger feels like forcing a camel through the eye of a needle. To walk, you must manually switch over to leg mode and drag each leg to a new spot. Tread carefully because if your wild gesticulation draws too much attention, the jig is up and your outed octopus ass gets delivered to an eager sushi chef.
These floppy controls sound immensely frustrating, and that’s kind of true, but it’s also the point. Dadliest Catch is all about flailing around, barely accomplishing tiny tasks. Combined with the game’s exaggerated, but eerily accurate physics engine, watching Octodad in motion is as hypnotic as it is hilarious. On the iPad Air 2, the touch controls make the experience even trickier. But whereas that’s a flaw in other mobile ports of console games, here it’s actually an improvement. I saw an early demo of the game years ago running on a touch-screen device before the iOS port was even announced. The quality of the final results is impressive.
Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife
Along with its offbeat gameplay, Octodad: Dadliest Catch wins you over with its irresistible personality. The graphics are basic but cheery and cartoonish. Levels like your home and the museum are surprisingly open playgrounds for causing accidental mayhem. The game has a 1950s family sitcom vibe. The plot mines humor from the fact that despite how obvious it’s been over the years, everyone around Octodad seems oblivious to his true nature.
However, funny physics and a good-hearted atmosphere only go so far. Even though it only lasts a few hours at best, Dadliest Catch sometimes stretches its premise too thin. Think of the student game as the Portal to Dadliest Catch’s Portal 2. The game works best when it sticks to its main hook of creatively doing dad duties as an octopus. Whenever it branches into more action-packed territory, like punishing stealth missions or boss fights, the charm fades and all that’s left are bad controls. Throwing objects, like boxes or balls, is the one prominent new mechanic that actually balances traditional gaming concepts with the game’s ridiculous spirit.
The iPad version includes most of the extra features from the PC release. You can replay levels and just goof around instead of following objectives. Shorts provide additional mini-episodes to complete. You can also make the controls even more absurd through co-op play. Try steering Octodad with a friend as each of you controls one half of his body. But this mode requires syncing multiple controllers to your iPad (or Apple TV), something that’s much more feasible on a console or PC. Octodad on iPad also lacks the library of user-created levels featured in the Steam version.
Father Knows Best
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is like a great Saturday Night Live sketch. Its concept is immediately amusing, and even as it starts to stumble and coast by on initial goodwill, you’ll still have fun with it. If you’ve yet to enjoy these eight-legged, suction cup shenanigans, the iPad version is arguably the funniest way to get in on the joke.