All of text above is reproduced from page 45 of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas with the exception of the words, “Octodad: Dadliest Catch” replacing, “ether.” It’s also an apt way to describe what it’s like to play Dadliest Catch. Appreciating Dadliest Catch doesn’t require an active narcotic influence, however, thanks to deliberately obtuse controls, even the most capable operator will inevitably render their invertebrate avatar a hilarious mess of tentacles and destruction. The concept behind Dadliest Catch debuted in 2010 as a wonderful student project and, with some help from Kickstarter, has finally transitioned into a proper game.
Dadliest Catch’s sincerity is implicit in its premise. An octopus masquerading as a man, presumably for quite some time, is inserted into various social situations and presented with an objective – all the while trying to uphold the guise of a human being. For example, sliding across the floor and repeatedly trying to pick up a box of cereal isn’t weird enough to blow your cover, but either too much physical contact or an extraordinarily dumb move in front of the wrong party checks a fail state. Dadliest Catch leaves plenty of room to collect your bearings, and even when it seems to be asking a bit much a checkpoint isn’t too far behind.
Describing a game’s controls normally isn’t part of the modern review process, but it’s absolutely necessary when trying to outline Dadliest Catch. Four of Octodad’s legs are merged into two human legs and controlled independently for the purposes of locomotion. His noodly appendage of an arm is good for grabbing hold of and sometimes carrying certain objects in the environment. Because octopi don’t have bones and physics being what they are, almost everything you try to do as Octodad results in a glorious and thoroughly unplanned disaster, and environments are constructed to foster this carnage. In (almost) any other game the lack of proper control would serve as a point of frustration, but here it’s presented as a term of endearment. Mechanically speaking, both mouse/keyboard and an Xbox 360 controller are supported, though I found the latter more palatable due its familiarity.
Dadliest Catch is divided into ten missions with multiple objectives inside said missions. Completing chores out in the backyard, for example, includes getting the lawnmower out to trim weeds and cooking burgers for the family. I did all of this, eventually, but not before somehow getting myself wrapped up in a tree, locked inside the tool shed, and visibly burning my tentacle hand on the grill. Almost everything you do arrives with a certain comic intensity; few images are more hilariously pathetic than being mere inches away from your wife and focusing like a Mentat to accurately hand her a ring. With time invested a certain amount of proficiency is eventually obtained, pushing Dadliest Catch closer to a legitimate game rather than a one-off joke. Despite this it rarely loses site of its delightful foundation, leaving only its climactic sequence as a true point of trial-and-error frustration.
If allowed, Dadliest Catch can also be a deliberately challenging game. An additional layer of difficulty is often found trying to locate neckties hidden throughout each mission, though in some instances alternate means of progression are also available. Silent but Dadly, for example, charges Octodad with getting past a bunch of marine biologists in order to reach a cafeteria. Halfway through you can either don a shark costume and stroll by unnoticed, or time you’ve movement right and find a different way around sans disguise. Along the same lines, another challenge demanding Octodad win seven prizes from seven arcade games contains more than seven games. Either way, Dadliest Catch moves along at a steady pace.
The existence of easier progression alternatives isn’t to imply one can just coast through the game. Trying to climb objects requires planned one-foot-in-front-of-the-other movement, as does seeking to navigate across a rather slender plank across some rafters. Attempting to ascend that absurd tower in the grocery store and reach a hand out to grab that soda flying on a toy plane, for example, requires a calm degree of planned precision. The gradual understanding of rules, most importantly that of Octodad’s suction-cup foot, arrives with playing the game naturally.
Much of Dadliest Catch’s humor is sold through the emotive eyes of its protagonist. Determination, annoyance, regret, sympathy, and incredible disbelief over his absurd circumstances are a visible and viable part of his sentimental load-out. Likewise, the subtitles interpreting Octodad’s muffled/gibberish responses to seemingly basic questions are hilarious, as are the frequent inquiries by family members (I lost it when his wife said, “…like the time we ran out of printer ink and you just made more”). There’s even a sweet and sentimental story buried underneath all the goofiness. Octodad is part of some bizarro-world where everyone is probably secretly in on the joke at hand, and it maintains its illusion exclusively for the player’s benefit.
Progressing through the Dadliest Catch rolled credits three hours, and not a moment too soon. After I had operated a self checkout at a grocery store, worn a dumpster as camouflage, routinely evaded a crazed chef, and lived out every giggly imposter-encounter, there wasn’t much left to do with Octodad’s relatively simple mechanics. Value, however, isn’t limited to my own enjoyment. Half of the fun in Dadliest Catch, much like Surgeon Simulator 2013 or QWOP, arrives with setting uninformed friends in front a PC, launching Dadliest Catch, and watch the ensuing chaos. It’s part of a burgeoning new genre of games driven by willfully obfuscated controls which, despite going against most of the rules in the book, still enjoys the pursuit of showing the player a good time. It’s not traditional, but it’s hard to fault – and that suits Dadliest Catch just fine.