Oc­to­dad: Dadli­est Catch

EDGE - - PLAY - Young Horses PC (ver­sion tested), PS4 Out now (PC), March (PS4)

The gag’s a de­cent one: Oc­to­dad is an oc­to­pus liv­ing among hu­mans, who ac­cept him as their own so long as he’s wear­ing a suit. Ir­re­spec­tive of his suck­ered arms and sus­pi­ciously poor co­or­di­na­tion, our hero lives a rea­son­able life, hav­ing some­how taken a wife and spawned two kids. Best not to ask how that last bit came about, but then Oc­to­dad: Dadli­est Catch asks you to over­look an aw­ful lot more than plot holes.

Oc­to­dad’s con­trols are best thought of as like Ben­nett Foddy’s slap­stick ath­let­ics game QWOP in a 3D space. Squeez­ing ei­ther trig­ger lifts the cor­re­spond­ing leg, which you ma­nip­u­late with the left stick. When stand­ing still, the left stick moves your right arm, the right stick raises and low­ers it, and RB grabs the near­est ob­ject. It’s sim­ple in the­ory, but be­ing an in­ver­te­brate, Oc­to­dad is at the con­stant mercy of his limbs. Walk in long strides and his head and body lurch around with the shift­ing mo­men­tum. He doesn’t grab and push door han­dles so much as tether him­self to them and hope. It’s clear that our pa­ter­nal cephalo­pod is built nei­ther for speed nor grace, so it’s all the more baf­fling that de­vel­oper Young Horses soon starts ask­ing for both.

Things start out well enough, with the first half of the game’s two-hour run­time mak­ing great hay of its The game is at its best when you’re mud­dling your way through do­mes­tic life. Just get­ting the lawn­mower out is an or­deal, as you clear the shed of sport­ing equip­ment, which then poses haz­ards as you try to cut the grass phys­i­cal com­edy. You’ll get dressed for your wed­ding, fling­ing gifts to dis­lodge a tie from a stained-glass win­dow, then flop your way to your wait­ing bride down an aisle cru­elly dot­ted with banana skins. A stint as the dot­ing fa­ther sees you spill half a container of milk on the walk from the kitchen to your daugh­ter’s wait­ing cup. Ev­ery­thing goes hor­ri­bly wrong at ev­ery turn, of course, but it’s sup­posed to. By wrestling with con­trols that are cum­ber­some by de­sign, you just about make it through, and have a fine old time of it.

Then it all falls apart. An aquar­ium visit in­volves a tor­tu­ous se­ries of minigames in an old-fash­ioned amuse­ment ar­cade. Oc­to­dad’s con­trols are meant to be im­pre­cise, so a de­mand that we throw six bas­ket­balls through a small hoop sparks ten min­utes of weary­ing frus­tra­tion. Then comes stealth, of all things, and by the end you’re tip­toe­ing across rafters that break un­der heavy foot­steps and dodg­ing pro­jec­tiles thrown by the an­tag­o­nist, a chef of uniden­ti­fi­ably for­eign ori­gin who ac­costs you at the end of mis­sions for a scripted chase where a sin­gle mis­take means a restart.

It’s hard to tell quite how things went so wrong. Lack­ing the con­fi­dence to revel in its pro­tag­o­nist’s clum­si­ness for the en­tire run­time, Young Horses takes Oc­to­dad’s com­i­cal core me­chan­ics to places they have no right to go. QWOP, re­mem­ber, only gave you an ath­let­ics track, and with good rea­son.

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