HIGH The Dad’s relationship with Amanda is heartwarming and authentic.
LOW The second date with “Fitness Dad” Craig outstays its welcome and is confusing to begin with.
WTF Fix that Garg!
Anyone who’s been on the Internet at all in the past couple years — and, if not, welcome home — has got a pretty good idea of what it’s like to play Dream Daddy, the “Dad Dating Simulator” released last month by prolific YouTubers-turned-developers, the Game Grumps.
Every word said by Dream Daddy’s customizable Dad, his daughter Amanda, and his seven potential love interests sounds like it was written not into a script or a Google doc, but into a tweet. And not just any tweet, but one with words spelled out IN ALL CAPS and self-aware, full of meme-ish social awkwardness. They’re good tweets with killer like-to-retweet ratios, but tweets nonetheless.
Amanda: “I’ll have you know that I’m mostly doing this for the potential of free food.”
Dad: “Thank you, Amanda. You get four daughter points today.”
Amanda: “Can I trade them in for a daughter lava lamp?”
Dad: “Sorry, you only have enough for a daughter spider ring. Or some of those daughter plastic jumpy frogs.”
It takes some suspension of disbelief to accept that exchanges like the one above are the norm for Dream Daddy’s ultra-clever characters. It also takes some suspension of disbelief to accept that the game’s inciting crosstown move lands DD’s protagonist in a cul-de-sac exclusively inhabited by attractive, queer dads.
However, if a player can buy into the dialogue and premise, they’ll be treated to one of the funniest and most heartwarming titles of the year, its Internet-ness notwithstanding.
For me, Dream Daddy was warm, pleasant and imminently likable. Its eponymous theme song is the aural equivalent of a warm bath on a cold winter day, and what its character creator lacks in depth, it makes up for in inclusivity. Along with selecting the protagonist’s race, the player decides whether their Dad is cis or trans by choosing to outfit them in either a tank top or a binder. As DD begins, we find out that the Dad is a widower, and then pick whether his deceased spouse was a man or a woman.
Once Dream Daddy gets started, the player is introduced to its basic gameplay — and I do mean basic. It’s a visual novel, so action is mostly limited to clicking through lines of text and selecting dialogue responses.
Earlier this year, I reviewed a pair of DD’s genre-mates, the first two titles in the Danganronpa series. Like Dream Daddy, those games require reading a novel’s worth of text, but their 30-plus hour runtimes are made tolerable by Phoenix Wright-style court cases and by rewarding exploration sections that punctuate the dialogue.
Dream Daddy isn’t as mechanics-heavy as Danganronpa, but it also isn’t nearly as long. If the player only follows one dad’s storyline, it can easily be completed in less than two hours. So, the loop that DD provides — go on a date with a hot dad, pick the right dialogue choices to win their favor, complete mini-games, come home and unwind with Amanda — was sticky enough to keep me engaged for its duration.
The dads are archetypes, but they’re lovable archetypes. Joseph, the ‘Cool Youth Minister Dad’, is a preppy Christian, whose last name is Christiansen, and whose children are named, Chris, Christie, Christian and—no joke—Chrish. Damien, the ‘Goth Dad’, is perpetually cosplaying as a denizen of the Victorian-era, and his house is replete with oil paintings and gargoyles. Matt, the ‘Cool Dad’, owns a coffee shop and is big into the local music scene.
While it’s clear that Dream Daddy is ostensibly about dating hot dads, it’s just as much about being a good dad. The Dad and Amanda share a jokey, loving, relationship that’s sort of like what Full House would feel like if it was actually good. Amanda explains teen things to Dad, and Dad tells bad jokes to Amanda… This bond feels real and remains generally sunny, but there is, occasionally, real stuff to deal with. At one point Amanda is giving her Dad the cold shoulder, and the player has to figure out what’s wrong. At another, Amanda stays out way past curfew, and the player is tasked with determining the right parental approach for the situation.
These decisions carry some weight, but choice really comes into play on the dates. There’s the most basic decision of who the player wants to go out with, but then there are dozens of smaller choices within each of the storylines. Choose the right response and be greeted by a flurry of hearts and confetti. Choose wrong, and it’s a storm cloud of angry black scribbles. Dates are graded, and though the criteria makes little sense and includes categories like “Sordid Past” and “Afternoon Tea,” the ranking system is pretty uncomplicated — B is okay, A is good, S is best.
The dates are mostly enjoyable and lighthearted, and each dad’s storyline contains at least one mini-game. Early on, I found myself embroiled in a heated ‘brag-off’ with Bryan, the ‘Rival Dad’ — a situation that played out in a Pokemon-style battle with each father using his daughter’s accomplishments as attacks. Later, Bryan and I competed in mini-golf, and a fishing trip involved a puzzle that required matching fish together like Puyo Puyo slimes.
Dream Daddy gives the option to play the field, but before a third date with any of the dads, a text box will pop up with the warning that going on this date means commitment. That third date, if played right, also means getting it on. However, DD is much more wholesome than it is horny — these sex scenes are implied with a fade to black.
I went on two dates with each dad before eventually deciding on Joseph. Why him? Mostly because I wanted to see how the love triangle involving my Dad, Joseph, and his mysterious, bar-hopping wife, Mary, would play out.
It turns out… not well. For me, at least.
Each of the dads’ storylines feature multiple endings, but Dream Daddy’s creators revealed shortly after its launch that two of the dads (including Joseph) will not commit no matter how well the player does. This would be frustrating if Dream Daddy was only focused on dating, but luckily Amanda was the heart of my experience. No matter what happened with any of the dads, Amanda was at the house when I returned home, to talk to and trade jokes with. After I got my disappointing ending with Joseph, Amanda was still there, telling me she loved me.
Dream Daddy‘s dads are likable and charming, and the storylines that play out are engaging. But for me, DD succeeded not because of its deft handling of romantic love, but on the strength of its portrayal of a healthy relationship between parent and child. And, Internetty as it is, DD represents the best of the Internet — its existence is a gentle, implicit reproach of Trump and those like him who would seek to ‘other’ the vulnerable of our society and stoke the flames of the culture wars. In contrast, DD imagines a world where being queer isn’t even a topic of conversation — its queer characters just are.
— Andrew King
Disclosures: Dream Daddy is developed and published by Game Grumps, and is available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download. Approximately 8 hours were devoted to the game and it was completed.
Parents: Dream Daddy doesn’t yet have an ESRB rating, but it contains scattered strong language and sexual innuendo (though, not nearly as much as you’re probably expecting). If I may put on my ratings cap for a moment, I’d give it either a hard T or a light M.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This being a visual novel—aside from some fun grunts from Danny and Arin from the Game Grumps YouTube channel—all dialogue is subtitled.
Remappable Controls: Controls are pretty limited in Dream Daddy to begin with, but you can click through dialogue with a mouse or a keyboard. All the minigames (or, at least, all the ones that I tested) also left the option open. According to the game’s Steam page, controller play is partially supported.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.