Dream Daddy is a game that has been on my radar for a while now, but I have been reluctant to give it a shot. I am certainly not getting any younger here, so the premise of a dating sim centered around middle-aged dads sounded appealing in a way that few other stories care to cater to. However, we live in an age where joke games are especially abundant, making anything with the word “simulator” in its name immediately suspect.
Eventually, it was developer and director Leighton Gray’s reading at GDC 2018 that convinced me to check the game out for myself… about 3 years later. I am a bit slow when it comes to actually starting on games.
In Dream Daddy players take on the role of a customizable
hero single dad, on the day where you and your daughter Amanda are about to move. Your partner has long since passed away and with Amanda soon having to move out for college, the time has come to leave behind her childhood home for something smaller. While this move comes with a lot of difficult emotions, things begin to look up when you arrive in Maple Bay and find that your street is a tight-knit community full of other goofy dads and their atypical families.
Dream Daddy really tells two stories at once that run in parallel. On the one hand, you got your parent-daughter relationship with Amanda, who is going through a lot of anxiety as she nears the end of high school. College applications, new responsibilities, changing relationships, not to mention having to move out on her own, it’s a stressful time for both of you. Your interactions with Amanda put you through both the wonderful and difficult aspects of parenthood, both of which have plenty of emotional moments to offer.
I was particularly invested in the scenes where Amanda gets caught up in teenage drama, as the writing does a great job at capturing how difficult it is to make sense of these kinds of stories and understand what a child is really going through. On the flipside, you got more lighthearted moments like Amanda trying to explain why parents shouldn’t try to get in on memes, or the many times where you can attempt to persuade her into admitting that you’re a “Cool Dad”.
That Amanda is such a lovable characters is key to making this aspect of Dream Daddy so enjoyable. There is a lot of fantastic banter and witty dialogue you can have with her that really sells the relationship between her and your avatar, but at the same time she is also not overly-idealized. She gets angry, she sometimes acts irresponsibly, or gets defensive when criticized. Sometimes she doesn’t want to share what’s going on in her life and pushes back hard if you try to force yourself in anyway. These struggles and the relatable scenarios that come up make Amanda feel remarkably real and inspire you, as the player, to actually think like a father.
But enough about this whole “parenting” nonsense. We’re here for some hot dad-on-dad action, so we should probably address the other main feature.
Using the game’s patented Dadbook social media platform, you can connect with various other neighborhood dads and make plans to hang out together. This feature opens up after about an hour to an hour-and-a-half of normal visual novel progression, during which you meet most of the cast and explore Maple Bay.
Each of the game’s 7 dateable characters requires you meet them 3 times to complete their route, though you are free to deviate at any point to hang out with any other dad so long as you don’t go on the final date with any of them. These romantic outings are then interspersed with optional side-stories offered to you by Dadbook’s messenger feature, which often see you hang out with several of the characters at once. Hell, even when advancing one character’s storyline, you often end up encountering some of the other dads. This can get a little awkward depending on how sexually-liberated you may have been.
The cast includes some truly interesting partners. There is the easygoing youth minister Joseph whose Christian household is clearly not as prim-and-proper as he tries to make it appear. Or how about the resident nutcase Robert, whose unhinged stories often have juuuuuuuuust enough credibility to them to warrant concern. Maybe that’s too threatening for ya? Then how about your old college roommate Craig, who turned his life of wanton partying around to become a fitness-obsessed family man?
These dates are usually just appointments to hang out together. You help Joseph with a fundraiser for the church, you go mini golfing with Brian and his kid, or attend an indie concert with Mat, just to name some examples. Oftentimes these come with surprising mini games where your performance combined with your chosen dialogue options comes together into an overall grade that your date is scored on. These mini-games aren’t amazingly refined or anything, but they always fit the characters and setting really well, and never outstay their welcome.
You learn a lot about what makes these character tick as you go on “dates” or meet-up with them in the optional interludes. They’re all interesting people with a lot of depth and story to them, and whose stylish cartoon look made them cute and-or handsome to look at. However, this is where the game’s format reveals its shortcomings. 3 dates is nowhere near enough to really dig into these characters, which leaves a lot of their personality and struggles merely implied. Especially if you make up your mind on who to romance right away, at which point the game can be easily finished in just over 2 hours.
My run with Joseph is a good example. Even when also hanging out with other dads and taking every extra opportunity to extend the game, it still felt very rushed. You hang out with Joseph twice for entirely normal dad-friend activities, only for other characters to treat you as if you are in a passionate, open-secret romance with the guy. Then you hang out with him one more time and his story just ends, having only barely addressed the domestic situation with his wife or what in the world is even going on with his weird kids. What you get is well-written, but the leap from platonic friendships to experiencing missionary with the youth minister is a sudden one.
Speaking of romance, I feel that Dream Daddy was apprehensive to fully embrace its dating sim nature. Romantic scenes feel rushed compared to the more natural flow of the writing throughout the rest of the game, especially when it comes to actual intimacy. I am fine with the cut-to-black approach to sex scenes, but even kissing, hugs, or other romantic gestures are only touched on very briefly. I am still grateful to the game for being so inclusive and offering a very different kind of dating game experience; I just wish it went a little further still.
These issues did hamper my enjoyment of Dream Daddy, but overall I must say that I had a great time with it. It’s well-written and comedic, it has fascinating characters, and the player’s bond with Amanda makes for a strong emotional core. It also has to be said that this is a beautiful game with fantastic sound-directing to boot; far more effort and attention-to-detail than is found in even the bigger Japanese visual novels. It’s a good bit of light reading, appealing to both visual novel connoisseurs and newbies who are drawn to its concept and comedy. I’ll certainly be revisiting it myself to try out some other paths.