Eight tentacles, three hearts and a broken Vita.
Allow me to forewarn you. There is a rapidly increasing number of computer games that look sweet and serene, with their bright, childlike art direction and oh-so-plinky music. Exteriors that hide the evil, evil gameplay that hides within. You may have already discovered this for yourself. Everybody’s Golf has one of the most insane trophy sets I’ve played in recent times. The smartphone gaming arena takes things even further with games like League of Evil and Meganoid, platformers with cute, 8-bit visuals that are designed to be as punishing as possible. The HD Adventures of Rotating Octopus Character (Octopus) is the newest example on Vita. If you want to play this game you will need one of two things; a room with padded walls, or the patience of an absolute saint. Octopus, as many people are already aware was a successful title in the Playstation Minis range (entitled 2D instead of HD) and has now been updated for the Vita in line with the current trend of HD ports. Like Velocity Ultra before it Octopus brings new graphics, leaderboards and a trophy set to the experience. Having not played the Minis title, I was keen to get stuck in and to find out what all the fuss is about. Little did I know after the first few relatively easy levels I was in for several hours of gaming hell. You see, Octopus is the kind of game that’s probably going to get a relatively small crowd of hardcore fans. The sort of fans that search for most most barbaric, horrifically difficult experiences within which they play over and over for that perfect run. Maybe I’m just rubbish at it, I don’t know, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to get my behind handed back to me on a plate so frequently for the tiniest mistakes. You have been warned!
Octopus was Dakko Dakko’s first indie title (their sequel Floating Cloud God Saves the Pilgrims is also receiving the HD treatment in the next few months). Releasing at the rather tiny price of £2.39/€2.99, Octopus is a fairly sizeable package of over 70 levels. Two modes exist simply titled “Standard Mode” (descending into hell) and “Challenge Mode” (the seventh layer of hell). Both modes offer up the same levels, the difference being in Standard Mode you play ten levels at a time, starting with three lives and Challenge Mode is a speedrun played on one level at a time with star ratings based on performance. The game concept is extremely simple and only involves two buttons (or triggers should you prefer). Octopus constantly rotates, moving around the perimeter of objects using his tentacles and it’s your job to round up the baby hatchlings in each level. Octopus moves at a constant speed, and can jump to stick to surfaces opposite with the X-button and changes direction with the square button. Simple in concept but soon maddening in execution, enemies are quickly introduced that make life a living hell. From hats the move in fairly regular patterns, to birds that fling homing beaks on you, snakes that follow you when you get near them and even lucky cats, the game is not short on trying to dish out pain. Water droplets appear in some levels and when you collect twenty you gain an extra life but they are also often placed in difficult to reach places or out of the way, so you often have to search each area and put yourself in danger to grab them. That’s pretty much all there is to the main game! Levels are attempted in sets of ten, so each set has it’s own theme and dangers, and often means you have to be extra careful towards the end of each set as the levels are both harder and droplets sparser. A timer counts down at the top of the screen while all this is happening too, so if you dawdle too much you soon find yourself battling the clock. The game does send you on a fairly predetermined path in Standard Mode due to the fact that hatchlings drop from the sky in stages, meaning you are directed towards each cluster in turn by a handy arrow if they are situated offscreen.
Challenge Mode is where the game really gets tough. Each level in the game in this mode is played again, however all of the hatchlings are present on screen to be gathered from the start meaning it’s up to the player to decide which route is best to take. As I’ve said previously a much stricter time limit is enforced in this mode and it will take a lot of reruns to find the optimal route in each level, with zero room for error to achieve the gold times. Leaderboards for every level allow the true elite to show off their skill/persistence globally, plus you can also see how your mates stack up against you on the friends list leaderboards. There are already truly impressive times that seem impossible for me to beat so if leaderboards are your thing you could really sink hours into here. Personally I feel I’m pretty good at games, but the challenge in general in this game is so punishing I had to put it down for fear of breaking my Vita in two at times. I know some gamers crave this sort of thing but I found ultimately that I was more frustrated to breaking point than frustrated in the “one more go” sense that was apparent in Demon’s Souls on PS3 and Everybody’s Golf or Rayman Origins on the Vita. While dying is never the fault of the game, often learning a specific route or pattern that the game wants you to take is the only way to complete each level and so in Standard Mode it can sometimes feel a bit restrictive. Factor in the later levels, particularly in the latter half of game where sometimes frustration is joined by tedium as you get to the eighth, ninth or tenth level in a set only to find a huge difficulty spike where you lose all your lives and then have to repeat all of the previous levels in the set numerous times just to get back to the point you keep dying at and you have a sometimes cruel experience that will appeal to some but could turn other players off. I know the game plays sets of ten levels to extend longevity owing to the fact that most levels are over in thirty seconds to a minute, but I still feel a little more balance could have been implemented. The game has supposedly had the difficulty level changed to make it more balanced since the Minis release, but it feels to me like in areas it perhaps isn’t enough.
Graphically the “HD” upgrade means nearly everything has been overhauled. Enemies in particular look great on the Vita and are made up of sprites with a limited number of movement frames, giving the game a nostalgic look. The frame rate never falters (I’d be shocked if it did with such basic graphics) and the colours and environments are varied enough to ensure that each new set of levels will bring a charmful smile to your face. The music in the background is a bit of a mixed bag however, again opting for the retro theme with varying degrees of success. Giving the amazing soundtrack that was in Velocity Ultra is still playing loops in my mind due to how memorable it is, the soundtrack here is a little disappointing but rarely irritating. Octopus also has a set of thirteen trophies; most of which involve completing all levels in each set without changing direction and while I haven’t tried to achieve any yet I can tell you without doubt or hesitation that this is hands down one of the most barbaric trophy sets in recent memory and will keep those dedicated enough busy for quite some time.
So all in all Octopus is a small price tag with a lot of content. It’s certainly not a lazy port of the Minis original, but I still feel that a lack of balance and a few rough edges make this is a slightly missed opportunity. I believe it will polarise opinion and my score reflects that, but with such a low price it’s worth finding out whether it’s for you. And if you’re a particularly skilled gamer looking for a challenge then arguably at the moment this is it. It’s certainly the hardest game I’ve played on my Vita, and as such I wouldn’t recommend it for kids, but despite the flaws it still holds a place in my heart for attempting to create a truly challenging experience in an industry that as a whole is much easier now than it was two decades ago.