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Octodad: Dadliest Catch reconstructs the tried and true gaming tradition of inescapable challenge in a new, orange cephalopod body – and a three-piece suit. It's exactly as endearing as it sounds, occasional irritating objective aside, delivering a pleasantly confounding stumble through mollusk fatherhood.
The titular Octodad is, in fact, an octopus masquerading as a human man with a wife and two kids. But the family is actually his. They believe every one of his blubs; they love him, and the kids call him dad. And the entire game is an extended pursuit to protect that loving façade. To that end, Octodad must preserve his cover by performing tasks that any normal father might, like making coffee, grilling burgers, buying cereal, or taking the family to the aquarium, all of which plays out over 11 levels and around two and a half hours.
Perhaps more than in any other Mac game in recent memory, the experience is really defined by its wholly unique and willfully fumbly controls. The default controls (outside of co-op mode, which splits limb control between controllers) call for the left and right mouse buttons to lift Octodad's legs. Pressing the mouse wheel initiates arm mode, wherein both buttons function as grabbers, and the right mouse button navigates the vertical axis when held. If it sounds cumbersome, that's because it is – even using a controller proves amusingly awkward – and that's precisely the point.
Because of Octodad's squishy body and unwieldy tentacles (and the intentionally clumsy controls), doing even the simplest task inevitably involves knocking over furniture, trampling on flowers, getting chased by an angry sushi chef, and fumbling to pick up anything or walk anywhere. Failing to adhere to established social norms – like not knocking over fruit stands, or say, not being identified as a cephalopod by a marine biologist – accumulates unwanted suspicion, and if Octodad accrues too much attention, the jig is up. It's the equivalent to dying in any other game, and it'll motivate you to frequently attempt and fail at normal human behavior with this unwieldy specimen.
However, despite its obvious difficulty, Octodad's bumbling is the most delightful gaming frustration in recent memory. Aside from one instance in the last level that took us more than a hundred attempts to complete, every errant slip and bungled grab served a dual purpose: it was hilarious to watch, and we learned better how to navigate his ungainly form. We acclimated to Octodad's acclimating, and had fun doing it.
But if there's one journey that we enjoyed more than fitting into Octodad's tentacles, it was coming to understand why this octopus would endure the harrowing terrors of the normal human life, and why he'd try so earnestly to keep the truth about him secret. The answer eventually comes in the game, it's encouraging, and it's the kind of personal sentiment that indie developers (like Young Horses) condense so well.
The bottom line. Controlling a virtual man has never been so equally challenging, rewarding, and occasionally dumbfounding as when that man is an Octodad.
Mac OS X 10.6.8 or later, 2.0Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo or equivalent processor, 3GB RAM, Intel Core HD Graphics 4000, Nvidia GeForce GT 330M, ATI Radeon HD 4850 or better
It's a tentacle dance with the beautiful futility of hiding in plain sight. A worthy challenge for any player.
A couple of instances of maddeningly demanding play with unpredictable controls.