Platform: PC (reviewed)
Octogeddon is an indie-game created by Roger Fan, who also created the mega-popular original Plants VS Zombies. If Plants VS Zombies was Fan’s take on tower defense, then Octogeddon is his version of bullet hell. By and large, Fan succeeds in delivering a game with the same relatively low stress as PvZ and the same amount of charm, but Octogeddon also feels simplistic by comparison. It’s still a fun game for as long as it lasts, but there’s not much to come back to after you’ve beaten it.
The player takes on the role of a giant octopus that wages war on various countries after becoming outraged by videos it watches on the fictional platform StoopsTube. One video shows a chef chopping up an octopus while another shows an octopus being mocked and laughed at. For these crimes, the world above must pay! But humanity isn’t defenseless. It will send all manner of war machines to crash into the outraged octopus, including submarines, airplanes, tanks, and zany mechanized bosses.
The controls are extremely simple. Left mouse button rotates the octopus counter-clockwise and right mouse button rotates the octopus clockwise. During underwater stages, the octopus remains in the center of the screen, and enemies attack from all directions. During above ground city levels, the octopus rolls forward and backward, and enemies attack from 180 degrees. While some enemies will shoot slow-moving projectiles at the octopus, their main goal is to ram their vehicle into the monster. After enough hits (measured by hearts) the octopus dies. If the player loses enough lives, then the game ends.
To manage the swarm of incoming enemies, the octopus returns to a laboratory where it can grow extra tentacles (it only starts with two for some reason) and attach different creature DNA to each appendage. For example, using snake DNA, a tentacle will fire a damaging projectile a short distance whereas using penguin DNA a tentacle will fire a freezing projectile that slows enemies but does no damage. More expensive versions of DNA types increase DPS or provide multiple benefits. The turtle shell DNA can block bullets but can’t attack whereas the snapping turtle version does both.
Money for more tentacles, extra lives, and creature DNA is earned randomly throughout the levels. The gold and silver coins from Plants VS Zombies returns here, but no clicking is necessary – they’re collected automatically. Occasionally, a floating or flying treasure chest appears, and shooting it is a quick way to increase cash flow.
In between levels is a mini-game where a random sea creature has to avoid electrical shocking pods and mines that are constantly falling toward the ocean floor. Falling along with these dangers are sea shells that can be collected. These shells are also doled out after each stage and are sometimes earned during regular play. When the player loses all lives, they are sent to a store where the sea shells can be spent to buy new DNA and extra abilities. The more items the player buys, the more their heart meter increases. In short, the longer the player plays Octogeddon, the more the game will help the player win.
I was able to beat the game on my fifth or sixth complete playthrough. When you lose all lives, you have to start from the very beginning of the game and play through levels you’ve already conquered. The farther you progress in the game unlocks new enemy types and new DNA. And this is why not every playthrough will be complete, and the player will abandon runs: There’s just enough RNG to be frustrating.
RNG Hurts the Fun…
When the user first plays the game, they are presented with a limited number of DNA slots that are populated with available DNA selections. As the player progresses, they will unlock more DNA selections than the slots can hold, and selections become randomized. So, if there are only three slots to choose from and, let’s say, seven DNA selections to randomly fill those slots, then the player might have to select from non-offensive DNA or DNA that they can’t afford yet this early in their run. I’ve had to battle through several stages with just regular tentacles because I couldn’t use the DNA offered to me.
To make matters worse, the enemies are also randomly chosen from the list of units that are unlocked the farther the player progresses. This means that cloaked units that are unlocked in level three could suddenly populate level one stages on subsequent playthroughs. And the only way to reveal those cloaked units is with a particular DNA that may not be available due to RNG.
RNG will also sometimes set up impossible situations where damage is inescapable. For example, the octopus can dodge bullets during underwater stages by spinning around so that the bullet passes underneath the octopus’ chin. The problem is that there are sometimes so many bullets (or other “projectiles”) that the octopus can’t spin without getting hit by something. Moreover, forcing the octopus to maintain a specific position to avoid one kind of damage will inevitably result in taking a different kind of damage because the DNA the player needs to destroy an incoming enemy is facing the wrong way. In the worst cases, the game will send an enemy that can’t be dodged or destroyed. All you can do is shake your head.
…But It’s Still Fun
Even if the game is simple, there’s still a thrill of getting the right DNA at the right time and feeling like a real destructive force. As a rolling farrago of disparate creature heads toppling buildings and dispersing helpless humans, it’s difficult not to feel accomplished as another monument crashes before you. The fun is limited, but I’ve also paid more for less entertainment.