Octo-ber: Octopus in Games

Welcome to Octo-ber!  This month, we deep-sea dive for the top ten appearances of octopi in video games!  I actually came up with this idea last November, but since it was already past October at the time, it didn’t feel right to follow through with the project.  So, I decided that I needed to dedicate the entirety of 2020 to making monthly pun-based top ten lists in order to make Octo-ber a reality!  That’s right.  I couldn’t stand the thought of posting an article “out of order,” so I created a year-long goal to fulfill Eric al Ghul’s destiny.  But really, I’ve had a blast putting these together.  Can you think of any other octopus who should be a part of this list?  Let me know in the comments!     

10) ”Eight Arms” in Ecco the Dolphin (Sega Genesis 1992)

“Swim slowly past Eight Arms.”

When I heard that Sega was having a sale on their 3D Classics games on the 3DS eShop, I knew I had to fulfill my childhood curiosity by picking up Ecco the Dolphin.  I had always seen ads for it and the underwater atmosphere looked very beautiful compared to the kinds of games I was playing at the time (which were most likely on Game Boy).  I knew the game was supposed to be difficult, but I had no idea what I was about to encounter when I gave it a shot.  I’ve only played it for maybe a half hour so far, and I can’t even get past the second “level.” Am I bad at games now?  I mean, I don’t play as much as I used to, but surely I haven’t lost my edge that quickly.  

First of all, I will say that the added 3D effect is really great, and it definitely makes the foreground pop out from the aquatic backgrounds.  The controls, however, are not quite as fluid as I had hoped.  The analog stick on the 3DS helps somewhat with the 360 motion of Ecco, but environments are constantly fighting against you as you navigate narrow passageways with swarms of marine life in the way.  Additionally, mammals have that pesky need for oxygen, so I’m constantly trying to speed back to a section with an air pocket.  Even worse is that it’s extremely easy to get stuck on an obstacle or in a group of enemies, so the life bar can drain pretty quickly.  If you lose all your air/life, you have to painstakingly start from the beginning of the stage.  Another pesky mechanic is the need to lift objects in order to take out barricades.  To do this, you have to physically swim underneath the object and push it with your nose.  The swimming is so touchy, though, that if you’re not directly underneath it, or if you move too quickly, the object will fall.  

Anyway, back to the point of this list… During my short time with the game, I’ve already encountered “Eight Arms” and have been instructed (by a giant blue crystal) to swim slowly past it.  Easier said than done.  With a ticking air meter, swimming slowly is the last thing I want to do in this game.  Initially, I thought this meant that I just couldn’t use my “run” button.  THWAP.  Then I thought that I could simply tap the control pad at a meeeedium pace (shoutout to Adam Sandler).  SWAT.  I tried again at an even slower pace.  Okay!  I made it!  Now where do I go?  Left.  Lots of enemies here.  Must kill them all… Ope.  Taking lots of damage.  And now I’ve found another key crystal thing.  Cool.  Where to next?  Oh…back….where…I came from….past….Eight Arms…again.  Well, okay, let’s try this.  Slowly….slowly……..aaaaaaaaaaand…..out of air.  Neat.  I’m back at the beginning of the stage.   

The 3D Classic version adds a “Super Dolphin Mode” that makes you invincible and removes the need for air.  As much as I want to beat this game the normal way, I honestly don’t think I have the time and patience for it.  But, I would love to see the story play out and just be free to explore, so I think this will be the mode for me until I get used to the game’s mechanics.  

Fun fact: The game’s designer, Ed Annunziata, took some inspiration from Pink Floyd when creating the game.  A few of the levels are named after Pink Floyd songs, and Ed even showed songs by the band to the game’s music team to portray the kind of mood he wanted in his game.   

9) Animaniacs (Super Nintendo 1994)

Heeeeey yooooou, guuuuuys!

It’s time for Aaaaaaaanimaaaaaaniacs!  Our next octopus sighting is in the Aquatic stage of the 1994 Animaniacs game for the SNES.  Here, the Warner brothers and their Warner sister have to navigate various movie sets on the Warner Bros lot to retrieve pages of a new script stolen by Pinky and the Brain.  Cinema, apparently, is their latest and greatest plan to “try and take over the world!”  Despite being a mediocre game, stereotypical movie tropes are sprinkled all throughout the levels, and it’s fun to see them spoofing those different genres.  For example, the Sci-Fi stage has nods to the Alien franchise, the Adventure stage references Indiana Jones, and the Fantasy stage takes influence from both The Neverending Story and Alice in Wonderland.  You can see hints of Jaws along with every pirate movie ever in the Aquatic stage.  It wouldn’t be a proper pirate adventure without a giant cephalopod attacking a ship!  The octopus appears twice as a mini boss before being controlled by Captain Mal (who?) for the final confrontation.  In each battle, tentacles thrash the deck while you do your best to aim a cannonball straight at its face.  Once defeated, a page of the script is collected and the three Warner kids can move on to the next stage.  It doesn’t have quite the same excitement as some of these movies (https://jamesmccaffrey.wordpress.com/2019/07/10/my-top-ten-favorite-giant-cephalopod-movies/), but it does its best for being a Super Nintendo Animaniacs game in the mid-90’s.   

8) “Squiddicus” from Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii 2010)

I am Squiddicus!

An overlooked aspect of the newer Donkey Kong Country Returns games is the constant storytelling that takes place in the backgrounds of each level.  When we first see Squiddicus (who really is an octopus despite what his name says), he is far off in the distance doing his worst to dismantle an entire ship.  As soon as he finishes, he sees Donkey Kong and starts moving toward his new target.  All the while, Donkey Kong is trying to make his way forward on floating pieces of ship that seemingly were dismantled by the octopus before arriving.  When DK gets close to a set of caves, you can see tentacles emerging from the water, rising up and winding in circles to ready their action.  Before anything can happen, DK takes cover in the caves.  Squiddicus responds to this by inserting his tentacles in the narrow passageways, making new obstacles for our hairy hero.   By the end of the stage, the exit barrel appears above the giant octopus, and DK blasts himself past danger to finally complete the level.  

Check out his antics here starting at about 1:20.

Squiddicus comes back in Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, the 2014 game originally released for Wii U.  In this sequel, DK is pursued by his old foe while trying to make his way through an intense auto-scrolling underwater level.  After dodging an onslaught of tentacle terrorization, DK must set three spiked mines loose via blast barrels in order to rid the monster from further mayhem.  I feel like it was a missed opportunity to not use Squiddicus as a main boss, who knows – maybe we’ll see him in a sequel! 

7) “King Caliente” from Super Mario Galaxy (Wii 2007)

Me mind on fire. Me soul on fire. Feelin’ hot hot hot!

First appearing in the Good Egg Galaxy of Super Mario Galaxy, King Caliente is the (less cool) Ganondorf battle of the Mario series.  He resides in a vat of “liquid hot magma” and shoots a set of flaming rocks at you before attacking with….a….single coconut?  Wait.  Why is that even an option to shoot a coconut at you?  Why isn’t the coconut flaming, too?  Anyway, when Mario uses his spin attack to deflect it, King Caliente smacks it right back.  A second spin attack from Mario sends it blazing back into his face.  Repeat the process three times and it’s over.  I’m surprised that the battle doesn’t advance much further beyond that.  This could have been a cool instance of an epic tennis fight with Mario having to jump over various lava-laden obstacle in order to reach the projectile.  I guess we’ll have to stick with Zelda games if we want that sort of action.  Or…maybe we could just play Mario Tennis. 

6) “Octo the Huge” from Startropics (NES 1990)

He’s got a huge…talent!

Worlds collide!  On the way to the next island via the Sub-C vehicle, Mike Jones is stopped by a dolphin mother who appears to be in distress.  “Qui quy!  Qui…k qui quy?  Qui quy!  Qui…k qui quy?” the mother dolphin shouts.  Thankfully, our Sub-C’s Nav-Com is equipped with a dolphin translator.  “Please find my son!  He has disappeared!”  Of course, we agree to help her.  No doubt, this must be Ecco the Dolphin!  After consulting the lighthouse tech and his wife, we are directed toward a bottle that has washed up on the beach.  A note is inside.  “Help!  Captured by aliens,” the note reads.  “Tell my nephew to use code 1776 – Dr. J.”  Well, that escalated fast!  Still, no clue to find the dolphin yet, but now our sub has the ability to submerge (you’d think that would be a key feature of a submarine)… AND we can gain access to the other side of the island.  Time to explore some caves!

After searching around for a bit, we finally come across our baby dolphin friend who is locked behind metal bars.  We can’t reach him, so we move forward.  In the next room resides Octo the HUGE!!!!  Okay, he’s not really that huge, but he can shoot deadly…ink balls?  With the help of a snowman and a baseball bat (Startropics has weird items, okay?), Octo is quickly defeated.  The dolphin son is released from his cage, and Mama dolphin, overjoyed, agrees to help us through the rocky waters to the north.  Why was the dolphin locked up by an octopus?  Is this part of some ancient war between octopus and dolphins?  Yes.  That has to be it.

5) “Pako” from Super Mario Land 2 (Game Boy 1992)

Pako knows how to Urn a living.

Mario moves south to examine the giant sleeping turtle on the Eastern island.  Before he can even stop to catch his breath, the giant turtle extends its massive neck over the water and swallows our hero whole!  Mario has now entered…..the Turtle Zone!  Now underwater, a whale sleeps soundly and a wrecked submarine can be seen crashed on the ocean floor (Sub-C!?).  After exploring the wreckage, Mario decides, “Hey, let’s check out the inside of that whale, too.  Maybe I’ll find one of my castle key coins.  After all, that coin has a picture of a turtle on it, so it’s probably around here somewhere.”  

It’s interesting that the boss of the Turtle zone isn’t the whale or the turtle itself, but instead… it’s Pako, an octopus that lives inside of an urn that’s inside of a whale.  Octo-ception!  The game’s nemesis, Wario, really went through great lengths to hide Mario’s key coin. Also, how can I equip my house to be opened by a series of coins?  Meanwhile, Pako is a pushover.  He is by far the easiest boss in the entire Mario series.  The only threats to our plumber are smaller “Poko” octopi who appear one-by-one, poko a poko, from Pako’s mouth.  Three hits on the octopus’s head, and Pako is no-mo.  

In the Mario vs. Wario comic series, there’s an issue where Pako attempts to stop Mario who is trying to cross a lake. Mario immediately questions the octopus and wonders aloud why it is living in a fresh water environment. Pako, a saltwater creature, then realizes that the lake has likely been the source of his most recent illness. Mario, being a constant doer-of-good, agrees to help out the poor guy by filling the lake with salt. After emptying a sack into the water, however, Mario suddenly discovers that he put sugar in the lake by mistake. The octopus falls forward, and Mario, red in the face, rushes away saying to himself, “Well, it’s time to hit the road!”

4) “Bubbler” from Diddy Kong Racing (N64 1997)

In some parts of the country, he’s called “Drinking Fountain.”

Bosses in a racing game?  Why not!?  Diddy Kong Racing takes the hub world concept from Super Mario 64 and mashes it up with the driving mechanics of Mario Kart 64 while also adding new vehicles like hovercrafts and airplanes.  The third boss, Bubbler, is a giant, brainwashed octopus who bombards you with mines whenever you get too close.  Are you ready to lose a thousand times in a row?  Well, GET READY!!  This guy is HARD.  I think I spent maybe an hour trying to complete this race.  In fact, it might have been one of those situations where you have to turn the game off and then give yourself a pep talk several days later to try it again.  “Alright, Eric.  This is it.  Today’s the day you beat Bubbler!”  (It wasn’t). 

Once you’ve completed the game’s Silver Coin challenge, you have the option to face him again.  Bring a tissue.  In the DS version of Diddy Kong Racing, he’s even more difficult!  Needless to say, I will never play the DS version of Diddy Kong Racing. 

3) “Launch Octopus” from Mega Man X (Super Nintendo 1993)

Very distant cousin of Ducktales’ Launchpad.

What’s tougher than an octopus?  An armadillo!  The paper-rock-scissors mentality of the former Mega Man games breaks down somewhat in the X series when every Reploid boss is based on an animal.  But, I’d still like to believe that an armadillo could dominate an octopus.  To clarify, Launch Octopus is weak to the “Rolling Shield” weapon that X acquires by defeating Armored Armadillo.  According to the megaman.fandom.com webpage, the Rolling Shield “ruptures [Launch Octopus’s] internal buoyancy/pressure system.”  Yeah, that makes sense.  

In a cool throwback, Launch Octopus is brought up during the dialogue before X’s fight with Volt Kraken in Mega Man X5.  Apparently, before being destroyed by X, Octopus and Kraken used to be good friends.  When X is pressed to apologize, Kraken says, “I wasn’t referring to such an old story.  You destroyed him because you are a Maverick Hunter… It’s your duty… your mission… Well, I got fed up with the hunter jobs.  That’s why I quit – not because of Octopus.”  Seconds later, X realizes that Kraken has also become infected with the Maverick Virus and is forced to destroy him, too.  Pandemics are tragic, yo.

2) “Octopus” from Game & Watch  (Game & Watch 1981)

It even had an alarm!

Here’s a cool bit of history: the same year that Donkey Kong was released as an arcade game (1981), Nintendo launched the Game & Watch handheld games.  “Octopus” was one of these games.  You might recognize the Octopus as Mr. Game & Watch’s final smash form in the Super Smash Bros series.  In the original handheld game, you played as a diver who was trying to collect treasure while avoiding the tentacles of the sour cephalopod (as an aside, Mr. Game & Watch’s Up Smash move is based on these divers).  Later versions of the game has you playing as Mario while Peach waits patiently in the boat above.  Additionally, an octopus-themed mini-game shows up in 2007’s WarioWare: Smooth Moves for the Nintendo Wii.  The Octopus Dance game in Nintendo Land (Wii U, 2012) also has roots in the Game & Watch series.  It’s crazy to think that nearly 40 years later, we’re still seeing references to this octopus in modern gaming.  The Game & Watch handheld system is making a return this year for the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros.  Perhaps we will see something special next year when the Octopus goes over the hill!

Honorable Mentions:
Legend of the Mystical Ninja (Super Nintendo 1991)

Pocky and Rocky (Super Nintendo 1992)

Octolings” from Splatoon (Switch 2017)

  1. Ultros” from Final Fantasy 6 (Super Nintendo 1994)
No concern for water safety.

An evil empire seeks to harness a race of mystical beings in order to use their magical abilities for themselves.  Meanwhile, this weird octopus guy wants to get in the way of your progress because…because!  Does he work for the empire?  No.  Does he seek magic for himself?  Nope.  Is he inconvenient but overwhelmingly amusing?  You bet!  Serving as comic relief to Final Fantasy 6’s somewhat heavy plot, Ultros shows up in the strangest places.  We first meet him while white-water rafting toward the city of Narshe to examine an Esper, one of the mystical beings that I mentioned earlier.  Immediately, his quirkiness shines through as he urges us to not “tease the octopus, kids!”  Surely, we won’t see this guy again, right?

Watch for falling weights.

Wrong!  My favorite appearance of Ultros is during the legendary Opera House section of the game (watch the whole thing here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEuf9ZSJrdg).  While our friend, Celes, is secretly pretending to be an opera singer in order to thwart a kidnapping plan by Setzer, the only man in the world who owns an airship, Ultros sits high above in the rafters attempting to ruin the show with the Wily Coyote’s greatest weapon, a 4-ton weight! (How’d he get that up there anyway??).  Thankfully, “it’ll take [him] 5 minutes to drop it,” so our party members in the audience have plenty of time to ensure that “the show must go on.”

Thankfully, no one broke a leg.

Unfortunately, mid-battle, our characters fall from the rafters and land directly onto the stage, scattering performers in every direction!  The Impressario, worried that his art has been ruined, plays it off like “everything’s going so well!”  With some quick ad-libbing to smooth over the plot, our main cast keeps their cool in front of “octopus royalty” and resumes the fight as the orchestra plays on.  Just when the fight is about to end, Ultros escapes and a light appears from the roof.  A man descends from a rope, scoops Celes into his arms, and disappears back into the light.  Our main party is quick to follow…and the game goes on… 

Meanwhile, we don’t see Ultros for quite some time.  After a few other encounters (including one particularly charming scene where Utlros gets painted by an artist girl a la Titanic – no jk), he ultimately ends up working as a clerk at a Coliseum to pay off a debt that would “keep him there for a million years.”  Though his connection to the story is rather loose, every appearance of Ultros is pure gold.  He is the perfect compliment to the serious nature of Final Fantasy 6’s plot.  Truthfully, if I had to make an Octo-ber list a hundred more times in my lifetime, Ultros would ALWAYS have the #1 spot!

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Published by erichagmann

Arranger / Pianist / Vocalist / Educator / Gamer

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