Of all the new genres that found life in the indie developer renaissance of the last decade the one that I’ve had the least interest in is visual novels. Given their preference for story over other game mechanics you’d think I’d be all over them but, for some reason, I just don’t see the attraction to them. I’m not immune to peer pressure however and after a few close friends got wind of Dream Daddy, a visual novel/dating sim where your romantic prospects are all fellow dads, I was bullied into giving the game the once over for a review. Whilst I might not be delving deep into the wonderful world of dating sims again anytime soon Dream Daddy was certainly a charming look into the world of what it means to be a dad in the modern world.
You’re a single dad and you and your daughter have just moved to a new house in Maple Bay. Ever since your partner died you’ve spent all of your available time and energy on raising your daughter and you’re not the social butterfly you used to be. It doesn’t take long for the neighbours to come and greet you, inviting you over for a BBQ and some good conversation. You quickly learn that there are other many single dads in the area and your daughter, who is college bound, pushes you to start socialising more. After signing up for Dadbook, the social network for dads, you begin your dating quest. Now all that’s left to do is figure out who your Dream Daddy will be.
Visually Dream Daddy feels like the Flash games of years gone by with the heavy outlining, solid colours and simple shading. Interestingly it was built on the Unity engine meaning that all those stylistic choices weren’t enforced on the developers, they were deliberately built in. Considering that you’ll be spending the vast majority of your time staring at the bottom of the screen however the visuals are somewhat moot. I don’t consider this a fault of the game per-se since its a defining part of the genre but it is something that has kept me from playing games like this in the past.
As you’d expect from a dating sim the game is mostly a text based adventure with sprinkling of dialogue choices to allow you to mould the story. For each of the 7 dads you can go on a total of 3 dates with them although, if you go beyond the second, they will become your Dream Daddy and that’s the end of the game. There’s a few mini-games dispersed throughout, taking the form of a simple challenge that’s part of the current date you’re on. All the choices and mini-game performance add up to a score at the end which, if you’ve done them correctly, will net you your Dream Daddy of choice. Mechanically it’s very simple although the scoring system is (and I believe this is a deliberate satirization of the genre) very obtuse so it’s hard to judge just what exactly you should say to get the highest score with your preferred dad.
The visual novel genre seems like a bit of a misnomer since the visual aspect is really only a backdrop to the novel part. You’ll spend almost the entirety of the game reading through gobs of text although they’re broken up into smaller bit sized chunks. Whilst I can appreciate the fact that the visuals do add something to the overall telling of the story it’s honestly not too much more. That being said I do think the genre lends itself well to the mobile platform as each section can be done in about 5 minutes or so. Unfortunately Dream Daddy is not currently available on any mobile platform but I’m sure it’d run quite well on any Windows based tablet device.
All the criticism of the genre and implementation aside Dream Daddy does a good job in telling its story, giving all the characters enough room to develop. The narrative is a lampoon of the loving but out-of-touch dad idea, pitting you as a kind of technophobic recluse who still does everything they can to support their child. It’s certainly not written by someone who’s gone through that experience themselves so the stereotype aspects are given a lot more air time than the inner monologue that would explain those behaviours. Still it acts as a good vehicle to explore the challenges that come with change and how sometimes we have to force ourselves to be uncomfortable in order to get more out of life. Many of the story’s aspects are also a play on the dating sim genre in general but, as someone who doesn’t play this genre regularly, I’ll leave the commentary on that to those more well versed in its nuances.
Overall the story is a charming look into what it might be like to be a single dad starting out on the dating scene after many years of being out of it. It touches on many issues that are relevant to growing up in today’s society and isn’t afraid to introduce ideas and characters that are likely to make you feel uncomfortable. The levity that is woven throughout the game’s story does make it easier to digest the giant walls of text however it does start to wear a little thin towards the end. It’s certainly a story I enjoyed although I don’t feel a great compulsion to go back and get all the dates with all the dads. That might be a different story if there weren’t so many other games I’m itching to play, however.
Dream Daddy was an interesting foray into a genre that I wouldn’t have typically found myself in otherwise. The light-hearted look into the world of being a single dad fresh into the modern world’s dating scene, even if it comes from a perspective of someone who hasn’t been through it, is charming to say the least. The fact that all the characters are given enough time to shine is definitely an achievement in itself, something that many games neglect. Recommending it generally though is a tough one as whilst I know there’s a fanbase for these kinds of games (both from the dating sim and general sillyness perspective) for your average Joe I don’t know if there’s much in there to like. Still I enjoyed my time with Dream Daddy, even if I don’t think I’ll be back anytime soon.
Dream Daddy is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total playtime was 3 hours with 16% of the achievements unlocked.