Octodad: Dadliest Catch review: Eight arms, all thumbs

Octodad: Dadliest Catch reminds me of "Chicken Boo," an old series of short cartoons that used to air during Warner Bros' Animaniacs. The premise was ridiculous: Boo was a giant chicken that pretended to be human. He disguised himself as everything from a superhero to a respected Civil War general, and the punchline was always the same: Everyone around him, even his close friends, finally discovered he was a chicken.

Octodad employs a similar (though funnier) gag, telling the story of a typical suburban father determined to live his typical suburban life while hiding his greatest secret: He's an octopus. Like an episode of Chicken Boo, Octodad is brief and, for the same reasons as the cartoon, that's probably for the best, because you can only rely on the same gag for so long before it ceases to be funny.

And Octodad is funny. The very sight of a yellow octopus, its tentacles stuffed into a sky blue suit, is worth a chuckle on its own, and the humor is only compounded as the boneless curiosity wobbles across the ground, attempting to perform everyday tasks like mowing the lawn or shopping for groceries. It's at these moments when Octodad is at its greatest, as your desperate, flailing attempt to make a cup of coffee results in the near destruction of your kitchen.

But Octodad isn't a cartoon, and it's only when more traditional game elements are injected – boss fights, failure – that it starts to drag.

Octodad (the game) centers on Octodad (the character) and his peculiar form of locomotion. With two tentacles squeezed into each pant leg, you raise each mock-foot by holding the corresponding trigger – left trigger for the left "leg," right trigger for the right "leg" – and point the left stick in whatever direction you want to go. Before long, you'll have each pair of tentacles whipping end-over-end, sending Octodad half-slithering and half-tumbling toward his goal. Smaller movements result in something that more closely resembles walking, which comes in handy when negotiating narrow pathways. Climbing stairs and ladders is probably the most ludicrous motion in Octodad, looking something like a gelatinous Jacob's Ladder.

Manipulating objects is similarly bizarre. When not holding any triggers to move your "legs," the left analog stick controls the horizontal motion of your "hand," while the right stick will move it up and down. Combining the two, you navigate the tip of Octodad's tentacle toward any object and then pick it up with the tap of a button (producing a wonderful sucking sound).

Putting it all together, you can now amble over to the refrigerator and open it, reach in to grab a bottle of milk, lurch back into the living room and pour your daughter a nice glass of moo juice. In the process, of course, you probably knocked over the kitchen table, dislodged every shelf in the refrigerator, and smacked your daughter in the head with the milk bottle.

That's the thrust of the entire game: working (coping?) with Octodad's unique control scheme to accomplish his daily tasks while avoiding suspicion and making sure no one uncovers his true identity. Knock over too many items while in the sight of human being and the jig is up. Occasionally, you'll also have to contend with Octodad's nemesis, a maniacal sushi chef out to expose our hero's terrible secret. (Final note on the controls: Play with a gamepad. The mouse control scheme doesn't work nearly as well.)

It's all rendered in a charming and appropriately cartoonish style, which is enhanced by amusing dialogue. Octodad himself speaks solely in unintelligible burbles, which are elucidated by comical subtitles. While hurriedly trying to hide something from his family, his jabber is interpreted as "a blub of forced casualness under duress." Octodad's wife – an investigative reporter, by the way – will occasionally comment on his strange behavior, for example noting that he loves the ocean but seems to hate the aquarium.

Everything is very tongue-in-cheek, and I'll admit to several genuine belly laughs at my own struggles, but it does begin to wear thin toward the end. That's only exacerbated by the structure of Octodad's objectives, which highlight the game's overarching joke. At first, it's funny as you wrestle with the grill, attempting to make hamburgers for the wife and kids. You appreciate the humor of an octopus trying to remove a single yellow apple from a pile of red ones. Eventually, though, many of Octodad's objectives start to feel like what they are – chores – and the inherent silliness of Octodad's physical inadequacies loses some of its luster.

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Furthermore, some of the moments that are designed to be tense – boss encounters in particular – are often annoying instead. The worst offenders expect you to accomplish feats of precision platforming under pressure, something Octodad's crazy control scheme is ill-suited for. Many of these encounters also lead to instant death if you fail, which only adds to the frustration. These challenges certainly aren't insurmountable, but they feel out of place in an otherwise relaxed adventure.

For all that, though, Octodad drips (oozes?) with a playfulness that mostly overshadows its occasional missteps. You'll even find a weirdly touching love story buried under the absurdity. More importantly, the sheer, uncoordinated joy of stumbling through its cartoon world is guaranteed to produce a good laugh or two, and Steam Workshop support promises additional levels that tweak Octodad's formula in interesting ways. Writhing around like an idiot is already delightful, but it's even funnier in zero gravity.

Not unlike a cartoon, Octodad: Dadliest Catch shines brightest when it allows you to revel in the insanity of its premise, but every running joke has a limited shelf life, even when the gag is this good. If you can forgive that, and the sometimes incongruous challenges, Octodad's charm may just win you over.

This review is based on a Steam download of Octodad, provided by Young Horses. Octodad is also planned for PlayStation 4. Images: Young Horses.

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