Plants vs. Zombies was (and still is) something of a national phenomenon. It turned your garden into a war zone and tower defense into an inviting, colorful cartoon world for everyone. The garden guerre was the brainchild of George Fan, who’d already had some success as a developer with PopCap and his first game Insaniquarium. Eventually game and mobile app developer PopCap would be acquired by controversial mega-publisher EA. In the process, Plants vs. Zombies turned into something different than what fans and Fan wanted, and the sequel for the IP was a disappointing “freemium” game that nobody asked for. Fan was against the move to pay-to-win, “freemium” games and didn’t want that to be the direction that his games took. When he was laid off in September of 2012, some suspected it was due to his disagreement over the direction the Plants vs. Zombies universe would take, though this was never confirmed. Lucky for us, George Fan hit the ground running after the layoff, setting up his own indie game development studio All Yes Good in 2014. At a games jam, 2012’s Ludum Dare, Fan would have the idea for an underwater adventure unlike anything else, and after four years of development Octogeddon would be born.
In Octogeddon, you play as a cantankerous octopus who’s slowly finding out that the whole world is against him. In the opening video, our friend the octopus finds a particularly graphic sushi video and becomes, well, quite irate. It’s from this point on he just can’t take it anymore and sets off to destroy the world, one city and one famous monument at a time. Octogeddon immediately echoes the absurd, charming humor that many of us first saw in Plants vs. Zombies. As you storm through the ocean one step at a time, you’ll purchase additional tentacles and zany add-ons from Carl, a slightly insane catfish eager to help you out. Then, off you go.
Octogeddon is relentless, ridiculous fun. This is the foremost game in the rotating cephalopod combat genre, and it’s only simple on the surface. There are only two buttons–right and left click–and while you might think you can easily master the two button scheme to beat all of the planes, sea life, machines and mechanical monsters trying to defend this planet, you’ll soon find it’s much more complicated than that. You start in the ocean outside New York City with two tentacles and as you rage against the machine you accumulate coins–one of two different currency types. Coins all you to purchase more tentacles and acquire the DNA of weaponized animals which you can use to create different types of attachments for your appendages. You will also collect shells as you make your way through these levels, and they allow you to unlock your most powerful upgrades.
Octogeddon starts you off in the ocean, but truly getting vengeance against people means eventually making landfall. In the water, you’ll rotate each of your limbs to fend off your enemies, in a familiar, tower-defense approach, but when you’re on land, you’ll actually be able to propel yourself left or right with those same button presses, adding the element of positioning within the side-scrolling scenery to the challenge. You’ll also come up against buildings of various size and strength that need demolishing, creating a barrier to your progress and leaving potential for you to be cornered. Luckily, there are a bunch of different ways to defend yourself.
There are a multitude of different DNA types you can splice into your tentacles to help fight your foes. There are snakes, which are straightforward shooters, chickens, which spit egg-bombs, bees, which spit smaller homing bees, and so on. The further you go in the game and the more shells you collect, the more advanced your weapons become. A snake becomes a cobra, then a king cobra, and eventually a black mamba, which shoots at a hugely improved rate of speed. Make no mistake, you will die eventually, and often make your poor wronged octopus into calamari. Death is often the way you’ll test your strategies, and at the outset, you’ve only got two lives to get you through six missions and their six individual stages. This is where shells come in handy, as they allow you to purchase certain upgrades that will persist through game over. You’ll have the opportunity to spend shells each time you die, and you’ll accumulate them steadily through regular gameplay and stage-end bonus rounds. You will end up replaying each level over and over as you learn to turn and burn your enemies properly, but it’s such fun that it doesn’t seem like a chore. Also, shells will allow you to upgrade your angry octopus so much you can mostly breeze through the first levels. Shells even allow you to purchase ways to bypass whole sections in your pursuit of vengeance.
Your slightly insane friend Carl the Catfish, who’s reminiscent of Crazy Carl of Plants vs. Zombies fame, has a vast array of goods to purchase: from helmets that absorb hits to stronger versions of DNA you’d already acquired, as well as extra lab slots, which will allow you to have more options to pick from when you get a chance to spend your hard earned coins. You might also stumble across DNA for various aquatic companions, like Spike the Pufferfish, Wu The Starfish, an electric eel or even an urchin.
Lab slots give you a higher probability of being able to equip the right type of arm for the level you’re in, while the helpers- perform hugely helpful power moves every so often with the press of left and right mouse buttons simultaneously. Opportunities to collect shells also take you out of the action long enough to equip whatever upgrades randomly appear in your lab slots. This makes for a lot of replayability with Octogeddon, as you’re faced with the luck of the draw each time you can upgrade. You can purchase additional lives and more tentacles as well, but you’d do well to be wise about your purchases. Sometimes the best route isn’t to simply pump more money into lives, as items that were once inexpensive get more expensive each time you purchase them–and each time you progress to the next level.
The random nature of the lab slot fills is a testament to good balance in game design as well. Though there were times the things I could purchase were not particularly helpful to the environment I was in, I’d find that no matter what, with whatever unholy combination of chickens, bees, narwhals and lobster claws, I could succeed – and this was even true when not being able to afford any tentacular upgrades at all!
Octogeddon is obviously a labor of love, and it’s evident in both the interstitials, which tell the tales of octopedic woe which led our anti-hero to his cataclysmic campaign to destroy the earth, and the soundtrack, which could only be described as radical, invoking a 90’s Saturday morning cartoon feel. The music, by Big Giant Circles, is equal parts sea shanty, 90s theme song and hair band power ballad, and when I’m not playing the game, I’m left missing the extra oomph it gave me to roll around and destroy everything.
Levels are colorful and change vastly enough from one mission to the next as to be engaging, and boss fights are varied, though most heavily rely on your timing, and are generally not as difficult as the process of surviving to face them is. Each of the five main missions introduces new game mechanics. This could mean anything from faster enemies and electro-bullets to cloaked enemies that require special tentacle-attached tools to defeat. The only real gripe I had about the game was that with my two-monitor setup, accidentally clicking out of the game and minimizing it was very easy to do in the heat of the moment, but even this isn’t much of a problem as the game pauses right away when minimized. The brilliant thing about Octogeddon is that it’s incredibly simple to pick up, but becomes devilishly hard by the end. It’s silly and cartoony but requires patience and a steady hand to actually conquer, and no matter how many times you kill off your angry octopi, you’ll find yourself ready to go again.
Octogeddon is one hell of a debut title for All Yes Good, and an incredibly addictive, ridiculous and fun game to play, and if this is the quality of the games that will be coming out of this new studio in the future, I will be first in line for the next one, too. Fan and his team are clearly passionate about what they do (see video below as Exhibit A), and created an absolute masterpiece with this crazy, hard, unforgettable game. Octogeddon is available now on Steam.
Categories: Games & Tech