I had originally planned to break this recent blogging hiatus of mine with a characteristically pretentious post on The Last of Us
and all its artistic doodads and thingamajigs, but a recent playthrough of a game which had swum under my radar for three-odd years now prompted me to shelve that project and begin furiously typing this very post. I was reminded of this game by a recent IGN video
covering its sequel which is set to proudly debut on the PS4 as an example of Sony's commitment to independent developers, and while its successor looks great, I figured it was high time for me to give the original a shot. The game, of course, is Octodad
, which can be downloaded for your OS of choice here
. It's free, and it's fantastic.
There's so much to love about Octodad
. The entire premise is ridiculous, and the game very well knows it, playing up to great effect the dynamics between an octopus masquerading as a bipedal family man and his oblivious nuclear family. Much like QWOP
and Surgeon Simulator
is all about control. The game provides the player a meticulous level of control over the titular character's movements, but it soon becomes apparent that such nuance is more of a burden than a blessing, as simply walking to an objective becomes a challenge in and of itself. One can imagine, then, what kind of chaos would ensue when tasked with mopping up a floor, or reading a bedtime story to Octodad's inexplicably human daughter. It's goofy, slapstick fun, and a great example of how a game's mechanics can be used to greater effect beyond simply being means to a narrative end. While the game's short cutscenes had me smirking on occasion, there's no greater joy in Octodad
than throwing all the contents of a shelf onto the floor and calling it "clean." Simply put, if a game makes you excited to wash dishes, you know it's something special.
is indeed special, but not for that reason alone. While admittedly this could be reading too much into a game about an undercover octopus, I think there's ample evidence to show that beneath all its tongue-in-cheek hijinks, Octodad
is actually something of an undercover art game. Not only do its mechanics facilitate a large portion of the game's "fun," in conjunction with the game's premise, they could also be seen as artistic and humorous commentary on the very nature of fatherhood.
The character of Octodad is an octopus who manages to convince his family that he's a normal, human husband and father. How he does this initially is thankfully unexplained, but the player is tasked with keeping his cover in check while performing the husbandly and fatherly tasks required of him by his family. Strange or ludicrously destructive actions raise the family's suspicion level, and once that level reaches maximum, the game is over.
Octodad isn't simply a secret cephalopod, though; in truth, he's a representation of family men everywhere, particularly those who are new to the occupation. Octodad's gameplay in turn simulates the bumbling, blundering feeling of being asked to meet particular expectations while having virtually no clue how to do so. Nothing prepares the player for the experience of Octodad, just as nothing prepares men for the experience of fatherhood, yet there's still an underlying desire to assure others that you are readily capable of the respective tasks at hand, even though that may very well not be the case. Not being able to do so in Octodad reveals Octodad's true identity and spells game over for the player. Not being able to do so in fatherhood reveals a man as the veritable fish (or octopus) out of water he is, dissipating the air of paternal certainty he so desperately wishes to convey despite himself. In both Octodad and actual fatherhood, every second of maintaining the illusion of control and preparedness is a small victory, and every accomplished task, no matter how clumsily it was achieved, is a momentous occasion. Every dad is Octodad, albeit with half the limbs, and by the game's end, the experience feels far less ridiculous and foreign than it was at the outset, which is quite a feat for a game with such an alien premise.
I would love a chance to ask the game's creators their thoughts on this interpretation of their game. It has certainly given me a deeper appreciation of Octodad
beyond its ludicrous and comical gameplay, and I would hope that it was the intended effect. Then again, the question arises of how much stock should we place on the intentions of a work's creators in our evaluation of it, a question which we've come no closer to answering since its first proposal. At this point, all I know is that I loved Octodad
for all the potentially mistaken reasons above, and I encourage everyone to give it a try before the release of its sequel, Dadliest Catch
, on the PS4. I can at least promise it'll be time well spent.