Review | 2/10/2014 at 12:00 PM

Octodad: Dadliest Catch Co-Op Review

You wear a disguise to look like human guys, but you're not a man you're an octopus.

We all know how smart octopodes (that's right, we're being pedantic) can be. Their curious brains, slimy tentacles and squishable bodies let them get into all sorts of mischief under the sea. But how clever does an octopus have to be to live on land? To wear a suit? To have a wife and be a father to two children? It's some clever hoodwinking, that's for sure, and in Octodad: Dadliest Catch, you get to participate in the deception!

Octodad is set in a cheery world not unlike sitcoms from the 1950s. Everybody's happy and the only problems they encounter are when the grocery store is low on frozen pizza. For Octodad himself, though, things are a bit more difficult. Nobody seems to notice he's actually an octopus. Not even his family. And he's going to keep it that way, even if his wife makes everyone go to the aquarium, a place no land-dwelling octopus would ever want to be.

With the campy storyline moving forward with each objective, complete with a salivating chef who is bent on unmasking our protagonist, Octodad proceeds with a series of mundane quests that illustrate just how difficult it is living in a world built by air-loving vertebrates. Ocotdad's tentacles are bundled together to form limbs. You control each of these limbs individually, picking them up, waving them in the air, and setting them down so you can walk and carry objects just like a regular person. Some of the earliest tasks are as simple as making a cup of coffee or mowing the lawn. Easy enough until you wobble yourself out there and try to actually do it. Makes you realize how awesome skeletons are.

A meter at the bottom of the screen tracks how conspicuous you are. It's sort of like a stealth meter in Thief, though far more forgiving. If someone is watching you, as indicated by a dotted line, you have to play it cool. Try not to flop around, bang into too many things, hit people with objects in your tentacles, or flatten yourself into a football-sized lump and crawl through a crack in the wall. Certain sections of the game require you to be even more stealthy, but overall Octodad exists to create a fun arcade-style tension between "ha ha you can't do that without opposable thumbs" and "tentacles are pretty useful".

The story takes Octodad to a variety of locations that shake the main formula up a little, introducing mini-games and extremely tricky objects to climb your way around. It never progresses very far beyond the basic set-up, though, so once you get the hang of it you've seen the gimmick the game has to offer. Steam Workshop support opens up the possibility of user-made sandbox levels, and there are some nice extras in the game that give you a reason to do more than just complete objective after objective.

Co-op in Octodad leaves a lot to be desired. The local-only mode allows up to four players to control the protagonist's limbs, each working a set or a single one with gamepads and the keyboard. Who controls what can be customized from the menu, so if certain people suck as being a left leg, they can swap at any time. For added chaos, roulette mode randomly changes which player controls which limb after each objective is complete. Talk about zany.

On the surface this hybrid co-op idea sounds like a wacky, wholesomely fun way to multiply Octodad's entertainment value. In practice, all it does is break the guiding philosophies of the game, turning an exercise in controlled chaos into chaos you desperately need to control. Imagine playing tic-tac-toe with someone who couldn't draw an X or an O. You have to sit there while they scribble random things, unable to participate until they get their act together. And you can't lunge over and draw it for them, that's just mean.

Octodad is fun because you can laugh at yourself trying to do normal things. It's not fun to laugh at other people when they're trying to be normal (unless you're one of those schoolyard bullies, in which case, we cast thee out!). It's even worse when you're playing a game and are working towards a goal. It turns into shouting matches and exasperated sighs. In your mind you think "I could do it better than my co-op buddy", which instantly makes you hate them all. The thing is, you probably couldn't do it better, so the anti-cooperative atmosphere is generated for no real reason.

"Hate" is too strong of a word when describing co-op in Octodad. It's more like eye-rolling displeasure. It's fun in short bursts, more so if you and your friends don't take completing the objectives seriously. But it just doesn't add anything to the game. In fact, it subtracts. Having separate simultaneous characters would be more entertaining, and it might even be a great co-op experience with each person working on different objectives so you can all pass the level. It opens up an ocean of design issues that would need to be tweaked, though, but it's fun to play pretend sometimes.

Octodad wouldn't be half the game it is without its sense of humor, relatable story, and blindingly creative artwork. There are jokes around every corner, most of them related to the indie gaming scene. Adding all those family-related "awww" moments humanizes Octodad, so you actually feel for the poor guy when he gets stuck in a shark-shaped trash can. You want him to succeed, which is why you keep going back, despite how stale the missions can get once the novelty wears off.

Octodad is a game about fitting in, laughing at your own ineptitude, and keeping life simple. It works well in single player mode, but the more people you bring in to experience the tentacle-slapping gameplay, the more frustrating it becomes. Better to play with an audience and just pass the controller along when you just can't take another minute of bloobing dialogue.