SpaceLab Transmission Begin:
It feels strange to be doing one of these that isn’t about X-COM, so for a total break we’re going from talking about a game where aliens infiltrate human society to a game where an octopus infiltrates human society. Hey wait a minute…
It’s going to be a big night for Octodad. You need to get to the basement and finish your grand invention, whatever it is, so that means distracting your wife during a romantic dinner by creating a dummy to distract her. You’ll get the parts by doing your fatherly chores around the house, allowing you to win the game.
That’s basically all there is to it, and you can beat the game in about 15 minutes if you know what you’re doing. The game is super short and designed entirely for goof-around fun, not challenge or a versus mode or anything else. Pretty easy for analysis, if I say so myself, since there’s really only one theme and one mechanic.
So what does this game do well and what makes it fun? I’d say that the real big take-away from Octodad is a very retro concept: sometimes the most fun things in a game are the things we take for granted.
The thing we take for granted in this case is the simple act of moving and manipulating your environment. See, Octodad is a good dad and a good husband but he entirely fails at basic motor skills.
It was a deliberate design choice. Instead of giving you good controls and difficult tasks, the controls here are precise but unwieldy, and the tasks are incredibly simple. The designers called it slapstick inspired, and I’d agree. Octodad’s character feels like Charlie Chalpin with hints of Stan Laurel.
Trying to put the dishes in the sink causes Octodad to spasm wildly and fling the china across the room, before lurching like a drunk to the refrigerator to “clean it out” by just throwing everything to the floor. Your control can be likened to the kind of drunken puppetry that Remy the Rat used to control the human chef in Ratatouille.
In other words, the controls feel absolutely horrible, but there’s the fun. The environments are littered with objects for you to trip over or send flying as you flail around, which makes the results of your FAIL controls go from frustrating to comedic.
Balancing the need for comedy and control is a task most game makers never have to consider, so designing an intentionally goofy control scheme and making it into one of the very few effective “comedy games” out there is really quite cool. It’s subtle, but when you think about it, there aren’t many of those.
Originally they were going to include more things in to screw up Octodad’s chores, like tripping if your legs stretched too far, or banana peels to make him slip (cut content which gets referenced by the Mom character) but I think they were better off not including those elements yet. Controlling Octodad is difficult enough without landmines like that to watch out for. Maybe a level where you have to help set the table though…
The game is short, but mercifully so, because the real fun is in learning how to maneuver Octodad around his house and not in the actual doing of the chores. The designers wisely picked up on this and limited the amount of time you spend in any one area, and gave you the ability to start at any room you wanted on further playthroughs. Adding length to the game as it stands now would either make it get boring or force you to ramp up the difficulty, and that just keeps opening up more and more cans of worms. I’m glad the developers cut out some of that content, it kept the final product cleaner and more fun. It also gives them somewhere to go with the sequel, which can be built ground-up to support those enhanced bits without making people tear out their hair.
I would be remiss if I didn’t point out it does have a few snags. It would be easy to nitpick here or there, but I’m not trying to review the game, I’m just giving an analysis of a strong thread inside of it. To that end, I think the design major problem is the missed opportunity of their Suspicion meter. What’s an Octodad gotta do to raise some suspicion here? Where’s the “game” in a game where you’re supposed to struggle to appear human, but nothing you do can raise Suspicion anyway?
This wouldn’t come up at all if it wasn’t highlighted in the tutorial, and it felt like a major dropped ball to include something, talk about it, but never actually do that with it. Maybe there were objects that are suspicious to use around the house but I never saw them.
In fact you could take the Suspicion meter out entirely due to how hard it is to actually fail the game, Suspicion or not. Without a challenge or a mechanic or anything aside from the movement the game relies entirely on the intentionally sketchy Octodad movement engine for fun value.
In another game this probably would have meant for a hilarious failure, but the character of Octodad is still so fun just to move around and the game is short enough not to get boring, so it basically stands on its own two, er, tentacles even without any kind of “game” on top of it. That’s when you know the core concept is good–when it succeeds despite the other things that hold it back. It’s hard to describe, but the game is free, so google it and get your own copy.
Final Analysis: Causing the player to re-think their relationship to the game space can lead to a lot of fun. It’s like playing a game of “the floor is lava!” and having to re-evaluate all the things you’re used to having in a totally new way. A simple twist to the average genre tenats, like a Portal gun or a Bionic Arm or possibly being an Octopus dressed like a man, can shake out a new experience or two and thats something fun.
Recommendation: Play it!
Octodad is free and fun. You don’t need to be a long-time gamer to understand what you need to do, and it’s really fun for anyone to just goof around making Octodad try to do the dishes. Hey, and it’s free, so no reason not to download it and give it a play yourself. You’ll never think about walking up stairs the same way again, and maybe come up with an idea for a sweet Halloween costume.