You wouldn’t think it to look at him, but that well-dressed man, that loving husband and father of two is actually an Octopus. Don’t worry, it’s an easy mistake to make, but it explains a lot about him. His clumsiness, his abject baldness and his tendency to clam up, if you will, whenever you try to get him to talk about his past. You see, it’s actually a complete secret, so don’t tell anyone!
It’s this conceit that really makes the game what it is. An octopus masquerading as a human while trying to keep it a secret is just a premise that lends itself so perfectly to the wacky control scheme, the slapstick humour, simple and stylised graphics and the surprisingly wonderful plot.
The wedding day level, which was used regularly for public showings and previews, does an excellent job of introducing you to the control scheme, which is the core pillar of the gameplay. With mouse and keyboard, almost everything relies on the mouse, switching between movements on a flat horizontal plane and a vertical one by holding down the right mouse button. You can then grab onto things with a left click, which won’t let go until you click again. You can then toggle to controlling his legs and push them around while lifting with left and right clicks respectively.
It’s fairly simple, but tricky to master. One thing that helps a lot is that the PC release also has support for all manner of controllers, including the DualShock 4. I found this to provide a far superior and more natural experience, with the two analogue sticks allowing you to move the arm both horizontally and vertically at the same time, and then lifting legs via the two triggers and pushing the sticks in the direction you want to go. Better yet, it automatically switches between arm and leg control for much more fluid and seamless controls.
How much you can enjoy this game is so very closely linked to how well you get on with these controls. The first level’s wedding day is quite straight forward, but then you’ll have to manhandle a lawnmower, perform a surprisingly tricky shopping trip and visit the aquarium, a place where a free octopus most certainly won’t want to be for long.
While the game is going to be sold on the humour of flailing around a room and creating as much carnage as possible, the controls have enough nuance and precision in them for you to be able to carefully pick your way along a thin platform, climb a stepladder and more. This takes away the carefree lunacy and requires patience to get it right.
Trying to climb up a tower of cardboard boxes, for example, is extremely precarious, and while the minefields of banana skins or puddles of water lead to slipping and sliding around the level in a hilarious mess of flailing limbs, it makes some sections overly difficult. It’s sometimes better to think your way around a problem, maybe finding a different route or clear objects that aren’t nailed down away, so that your life is easier.
It is thankfully a very forgiving game, though. Picking up the right object is helped by some very generous auto-aim with the arm, there’s often more than one way to get something done in case you struggle with one little task and it will generally take a lot of octopus-based chaos for you to be found out by humans. Even your wife and children don’t know you’re an octopus, which I thought led to some rather touching moments between Octodad and his wife, as his evasiveness shows signs of starting to damage their relationship.
But every moment of dialogue is tinged with humour, as Octodad burbles back his response. It could be those points where his wife asks him to be more open about his past, or it could be his kids asking some suitably inane questions. You basically have to play the game with subtitles on because, even though the in-game characters understand him perfectly, we do need the translation of what those unintelligible noises mean and this is where a lot of the humour comes from.
Dodging his wife’s questions, avoiding the attention of humans and raising his kids would be fine if they were the only thing for Octodad to worry about, but he is constantly hounded by a maniacal and caricatured sushi chef who knows of his secret. There are quite regular encounters with this obsessive and implacable adversary, and it’s often a race against time, testing your abilities with the game’s controls to the limits.
Unfortunately, though each encounter is quite varied, the controls and the pressure the game is suddenly putting you under leads to some of these chef battles being particularly frustrating. It often feels unfair that you’ve been caught and insta-killed even when it is just a horrible difficulty spike that you’re stuggling to cope with, but then there are points where your limbs do get trapped and stuck on objects. It’s a minor annoyance during normal play, but frustrating when it happens in the middle of a level’s climactic moments, when you’re sometimes left figuring out what to do through trial and error.
It’s also a very short game, with my play-through lasting around two hours and developer speedruns clocking each level at just a few minutes each. There is a degree of replay value added via Steam Workshop mod support on PC and by having you hunt for ties hidden across each map, but the real reason why you’ll dig it out again is to show it off to friends and family, share the craziness and the bizarre humour. As a bonus, there’s 2-4 player co-op for just this kind of play, with each player getting to control one of Octodad’s completely normal human limbs.
Young Horses have taken such a unique premise and tried to craft a well rounded game out of it. The amount of enjoyment you will get out of this is so closely tied to how you get on with the controls, and with a controller attached, those are a delight. Sadly, the entire experience is marred by annoying difficulty spikes that put you under pressure, which stand in such stark contrast to the free-wheeling mayhem and fun that can be enjoyed at your leisure elsewhere in the game, but if you can overlook those moments then there is some excellent fun to be had.