Watching Octodad: Dadliest Catch being played at E3 on a PlayStation 4, you notice one thing that separates it from virtually every other title on the show floor. Rather than seeing stoic, expressionless faces on its players, you see laughter and ear-to-ear smiles.
While I spoke to Phil Tibitoski, president of Octodad developer Young Horses, about his game, we stood chatting at the end of a bank of monitors, watching others play from an angle that obscured the onscreen action. Players' faces were lit up with the cool glow from screens and the unexpected joy of Dadliest Catch's brilliant physical comedy.
Later, as I waited in line, three women played and watched, passing the controller back and forth, caught in fits of laughter.
The gist of Octodad: Dadliest Catch is that you play as an octopus who tries to pass for human. His understandable clumsiness gets in the way of his disguise and, therefore, hilarity ensues. In the game's E3 demo, players take control of Octodad as he prepares for his wedding day. The level is set in the past, before Octodad becomes a "caring husband, loving father and secret octopus." He needs to dress himself, locating his tux and bow tie, then track down the wedding ring. It's a simple set of tasks, made hilariously difficult, thanks to Dadliest Catch's control scheme.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is interactive slapstick, an important game in the PS4's indie-fueled lineup.
Controlling an upright octopus with a DualShock 4 feels appropriately clumsy. Players are required to use a combination of trigger pulls and analog stick pushes to control Octodad's limbs; like some weird, slippery hybrid of tank and driving game controls. Switching between limbs requires a tap of the controller's L1 button, adding a layer of confusion and complexity to the controls.
Compounding Dadliest Catch's control chaos is with the option to toggle the suction cup stickiness of Octodad's limbs. He'll need to pick up items and open containers with his arm-limbs, and more often than not I found myself accidentally ambling about with a bathroom mirror or a shard of a stained glass window stuck to Octodad's arm.
That unwieldiness is great. Octodad's wild, drunken gesticulations are perfectly implemented and might help accomplish something that no other PlayStation 4 game can do: welcome new, inexperienced players to the console.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch's unique and unfamiliar controls feel strangely important. They level the playing field for many players, since no one's really manipulated a character like this before. That means Octodad has the potential to be enjoyed by everyone, regardless of skill. Sure, alternating pulls on a pair of triggers while also using the thumbs to steer an octopus will require some level of finger dexterity, but flailing in Octodad is just as much fan as succeeding.
Getting fully swept up in the hyperbole here, Octodad has shades of Wii Sports — at least in its potential broad appeal. It's a game that you could hand a controller to anyone and they'll have some fun with it, just as spectators will. Later levels might test that theory, as the game requires a level of stealthiness. Players are supposed to control Octodad more expertly later on to avoid suspicion, helping him blend in as an octopus-in-a-suit among humans. But watching Octodad's efforts go south, leaving a trail of destruction and confusion in his wake, might be as good as winning.
For more on Octodad, developer Young Horses and more indie games coming to PS4, read our in-depth feature interviews from E3.
Octodad: Dadliest Catch is slated to come to PlayStation 4, Windows PC, Mac and Linux in early 2014.