I may have to riot (or hold a press conference, whichever comes first) about these interesting pixel side-scrollers that keep popping up on my radar. At first glance, Dad Quest (from indie outfit Sundae Month) doesn’t seem like the type of game I’d consciously choose with an expectation of a good time; the very concept seems so ludicrous I wonder where it came from. And yet…
I’m glad to say putting aside my bag of salt turned out to be a real pleasure. The heartfelt experience here had more depth than I first gave it credit for and I’m glad to have given it a chance to stand out on its own terms.
Dad Quest revolves around a central idea of undertaking the responsibility of being a father and raising their son or daughter. Children in this wacky world are indestructible forces of nature that can be leveled-up with newer, more powerful abilities. Dads, on the other hand, have no power in the beginning without their child, but their son or daughter can’t unlock those special abilities without help from their guardian. This symbiotic relationship doesn’t just help explain the magic of parenthood, but provides some truly unique side-scrolling platforming action to boot.
The premise is unique: Dad #63 has undergone training in a research facility to earn the chance to raise their own child. Once they leave they’re on a quest to find the mysterious ‘Dad Spirit’ and to understand what it truly means. Once they’ve uncovered this mysterious force, they must return to the facility and report their findings. Many potential Dads have attempted to finish this quest, but none have made the cut…until now.
Dad Quest is brilliant not just in how it approaches the tired side-scroller genre, but also in how easily it kept me engaged throughout. After “receiving” my initial child (I chose a son) the first fifteen minutes had me cracking up laughing with whacking a few pigeons to gain experience. The controls basically fall into melee and distance attacks the first go around; Dads can throw (!) their child to attack enemies in the air or on the ground. Melee attacks consist of whacking at enemies repeatedly, which is ideal for wiping out a room full of pesky pigeons (darn pigeons!).
The central role Dads play is they’re unable to do much except jump, climb, and crouch. There’s a sense of helplessness about him since he can’t defend himself against hordes of enemies located throughout the levels. Equipped with a child, however, Dads become able to get through levels and vanquish enemies much easier, though running and jumping remain the same. Likewise, apart from being a human projectile, children are pretty helpless on their own, meaning the two need each other to make it through this dangerous and wacky world.
By far my favorite unique element in Dad Quest was being able to upgrade the abilities of both child and father. There’s a decent selection of abilities to choose from that encourage defensive or offensive playstyles. My personal favorite was the piercing throw, a distance attack that had the child bounce back if they hit a wall for a potential second hit on an enemy. Other fun and useful abilities is being able to throw the child so they stun the enemy or whirl around in mid-air for extra damage.
While the leveling system isn’t deep, the customization is sweet in terms in how to wipe out mobs of enemies. There’s also items available to upgrade father and child to give them more abilities. This keeps things interesting and offers a fun challenge when developing a strategy on how to proceed forward with certain enemies or navigate levels.
Dad Quest has vibrant colors that seem to ‘pop’, which surprised me for a pixelated side-scroller. While I’ve played other titles with beautiful color schemes and design, Dad Quest just rocks its own style. One of its best features has to be how the levels are set-up with each area never feeling too vast or small. The research facility alone is filled with NPCs in lab coats hopping about, poor Dads who didn’t make the cut, and enemies hiding in broken down boxes. This world felt alive and kicking, with even a couple of conversations and comments being made by the NPCs moving around.
One of the elements I didn’t notice about Dad Quest is music, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. One step closer to leveling up my child, stopping to listen to the soundtrack never occurred to me. During all that jumping over mutated purple dinosaur hedgehogs and taking out flying eggs, I lived for hearing a delightful ‘clink clink’ of experience when defeating an enemy.
The music to me sounded Dad-ish, if that’s even a word. There’s a certain cheesiness to it I can’t put my finger on, but it’s charming. Each note tends to meander on its own and hang in the air waiting to enter the player’s ear canal or to go on its way. While the latter ended up happening to me, the rare times I did listen to it, there was nothing bad to say about it.
Finally, the design of the characters is varied too. One facet of pixel graphics I’ve never liked is how the NPCs start to feel boring after a while and even generic. Similar to playing Pokémon and coming across the same type of Bug Trainer who looks exactly like the last one, just with a different name. NPCs did look in certain respects, but there’s variety here, too. Scientists in lab coats, potential Dads (male AND female!) wearing different colored shirts, different ethnic groups, even small details like glasses or the odd NPC wearing a black robe while hiding in a corner.
Even the monsters are varied enough where at no given point I could feel comfortable with defeating them. Defeating pigeons that hop about is a simple task, but the flying eggs and mutated hedgehog dinosaur rolling towards me were challenges to conquer. I died quite a few times trying to defeat some of these enemies, which required playing smart, correct timing, and knowing when to throw my child at the right moment. Where else could that last statement make sense?
Dad Quest certainly isn’t groundbreaking, but the level of depth and emotion that was obviously poured into the game really surprised me; I really didn’t expect such things from a pixelated side-scroller. There’s one part in the beginning right after the Dad exits the facility to leave on a boat where he’s hurt. The moment it happened took me by surprise and left me sad, even scared about what was to take place in the future.
While I can’t claim to understand the epitome of ‘Dad Spirit’ that Dad Quest claims to have, I do have a pretty clear idea of the message it’s going for. Children have untapped potential, but they still need a parent to encourage and realize this fully. And how lovely is it when a Dad is there to help provide that little extra boost they need to overcome those obstacles in life they otherwise couldn’t on their own…soulless-eyed pigeons or otherwise.