Wednesday, December 22, 2021


In the world of independent games, perhaps one of the better-known titles is Octodad: Dadliest Catch, a game about an octopus disguised as a human. After I played Bugsnax, developed by Young Horses, I felt more compelled to check it out, but decided to first see its roots through the original freeware game, Octodad. Interestingly, this comparatively lesser-known game was developed in four months by the Young Horses team while they were students at DePaul University for the Student Showcase of the 2011 Independent Games Festival, in which they placed in the top eight. Knowing this context, the short development cycle and amateur presentation are more noticeable, but it’s still an impressive feat nonetheless and doesn’t make it any less worth checking out.

In Octodad, the titular Octodad, a dapper octopus disguised as a human, must reach his secret hideout in the basement without letting his human family find out. As he attempts mundane household tasks to create a convincing decoy, he must also contend with a sushi chef who has not only seen through his disguise, but wants him dead.

While the storytelling is minimal and presented through short cutscenes, it still has enough material to keep players invested and give a good idea of what Octodad’s everyday life is like. There’s also plenty of humor, including the running joke of how his wife and kids are thoroughly convinced that he’s a human. There are some details that go unexplained, like how the sushi chef was able to hide in the house, but it doesn’t make what’s there any less enjoyable.

No one suspects a thing.

To accomplish his first goal of creating a decoy, Octodad must complete a series of to-do lists for each room of the house. However, the more his behavior doesn’t match his disguise, the more a Suspicion meter will fill up. If the meter fills all the way up, his family will figure out his true identity and the player will have failed their task. The real difficulty in maintaining cover, however, comes from the intentionally awkward control scheme meant to simulate what it’s like to control an invertebrate while still keeping the game playable.

For the most part, the controls help with the comedic atmosphere of the game, as it’s stumbling around can lead to some unintentionally funny moments. While the controls aren’t that hard to get used to thanks to the tutorial, however, it’s not completely smooth sailing. I sometime had a hard time getting Octodad to move how I wanted him to, especially when trying to step on spiders or navigate a series of laser-based obstacles. There were also points where I had an unusually hard time getting him to reliably climb steps. Fortunately, Octodad’s family never caught on to his identity during my entire run, but it didn’t really alleviate the frustration of those moments. Similarly, I sometimes had trouble aiming Octodad’s tentacle where I wanted, especially during a required digging section.

Fortunately, precision isn't always required.

Visually, Octodad still looks fairly decent considering the time constraints, as the low-poly 3D models still look distinct from one another and pair well with the light-hearted atmosphere. Cutscenes use a low-budget style of animation and have a more amateurish art style, but they still look presentable and don’t feel too out of place. However, navigating the main hub room of the house proved odd, since the rooms were mislabeled until after I cleared them. For example, the Kid’s Room was mislabeled as the Kitchen before attempting the room.

While the game’s original score and minimal voice acting were both effective, the audio wasn’t free from issues. In this case, sound effects from a previous setpiece would continue during a subsequent cutscene and the cutscenes themselves sometimes had poor audio mixing. Once again, this doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the game, but they’re noticeable flaws.

The original Octodad may only be about an hour long, but it’s an interesting window into the roots of its more well-known sequel and a good example of a game made in a tight window and on a small budget can still shine with the right creativity. Since you can download the game off of for free, it’s worth playing at least once.

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