Before the announcement of Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator, nobody knew that they wanted a game like this so badly. Folks went bonkers after the announcement (even those who had never before played a visual novel or dating sim before). Some of this had to do with the Game Grumps connection, as this group has a massive fan following. Of course, there was also the matter of the LGBTQ gamer community perking up. At this point, there’s unfortunately still not too many games which happily focus on non-straight characters and relationships. After a relatively short delay, Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator is finally out there and tons of people are playing it. Was it worth all this excitement?
There’s really so much to cover when discussing Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator. The easiest place to start is with the name. No, despite being specifically called “A Dad Dating Simulator,” it’s not actually a dating sim in the traditional sense. You do not at any point work at raising the protagonist’s stats in order to appeal to certain fathers. Nor do you ever need to work at odd jobs in order to pay for gifts to provide your dad of choice. Whether characters like you or not depends simply on your responses to dialogue choices, which is pure visual novel gameplay rather than being of the dating sim variety. Where one can excuse the naming is in the fact that the majority of your time is spent going on dates with different dads. So in that respect it is a “dad dating” simulator.
What is the setup for all this daddy dating? It all starts when the player-named protagonist and his daughter Amanda move across town. This is meant to be a fresh start for the both of them after the untimely passing of the protagonist’s spouse. After just barely settling in, he comes across a cavalcade of handsome men desperate to become his friend. This includes an old college buddy, someone who looks strikingly like a vampire, an overly-competitive dude, youth minister and other oddball characters. At first nearly all seven dads prove really off-putting, but once you get to know them they reveal what’s going on behind these two-dimensional facades.
Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator features a simplistic overall structure which makes it easy for newcomers to the visual novel genre to follow. The common route introduces folks to all the different fathers. After being acquainted with them, you gain access to DadBook (Facebook for dads, apparently). The common route should take around one to three hours depending on your reading speed. After that you become totally DadBook-obsessed. Outside of a few interstitial scenes between dates, you’ll spend the rest of the game selecting characters from the website in order to trigger a date with them. After completing three dates with the same dad, you’ll receive their ending. It’s a super simple setup and ensures that everyone can chase after their dream daddy without needing to follow a walkthrough.
Finishing all three dates with any dad takes forty five minutes to two hours, again depending on your reading speed. So, while it took me just six hours in total to date each and every dad, it may take upwards of fifteen hours for other folks to complete. Despite the simple scheme for selecting a dad route, there’s still room for confusion. One early issue for me was determining the difference between good answers and great answers to dialogue choices. For example, some answers make hearts come out of a character. Another answer results in hearts, sweat drops and, oddly enough, eggplants flying out. Is that meant to chide an awful answer or to celebrate an awesome answer? Apparently it’s the best response to receive, but nothing in the game tells you this simple fact.
Then there’s the matter of developing Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator in Unity. This is a great move for the sake of potential ports down the road. It also benefits the minigames, as they’d be much harder to create in a visual novel engine. The minigames rarely add anything, however, often feeling like an unneeded annoyance. Some, such as a minigolf game, are also outrageously difficult to complete successfully (so far apparently no one has received this achievement). Most just come across as being put in there for laughs or because the developers feared a visual novel is not interactive enough. There are tons of dialogue choices already so that wasn’t an issue.
Opting for Unity detracts from the visual novel experience in that the game does not include so many features one would expect. There’s no option to change text speed, auto option, highlighting of previously-selected choices or dialogue history. These are just expected from the genre and are baked into engines like Ren’py. All of this isn’t a game breaker, of course. The writing is mostly sweet and humorous, keeping you involved with the dads and their dates. Dates themselves often feel like they’re on fast forward. Somehow, after just that small amount of time, a real relationship suddenly develops and it feels like we’ve completely missed out on huge parts of it. At the end, no matter who you choose, a similar sort of ending (good or bad) plays out.
The visuals are no slouch, as each father looks downright handsome. Sometimes the backdrops look more like sketches than finished pieces, though, likely due to the fact that there were a lot of artists involved. Similarly, the user-created dads don’t stand up to the main sprites. Right now there is a glitch which causes character sprites to suddenly appear in the wrong scenes. While funny, it detracts from the overall experience. The bullet point about Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator on Steam which says “voiced by the Game Grumps and friends” is honestly misleading. The vast majority of this voice acting are characters grunting positively, in shock or laughing. The idea is cute, but comes across as weird in practice.
Finally, there’s the matter of plain old technical issues and stuff that could have been smoothed over with a bit more development time. There’s a handful of typos, typically relating to a confusion between “its” and “it’s,” which catches so many indie developers. There’s also a weirdness about proper case. For example, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is referred to as “the Shining.” It’s not a one-time issue, either, as proper case mistakes prove an issue time and time again. At the end of the day, this can be ignored, but what can’t be ignored is continuity issues. For example, early on you choose whether the protagonist married a man or woman. No matter the choice, however, the script later references him having married another man. There are still a handful of these mistakes present in the game. At the time of this writing there also appear to be a small subset of options and one ending which are inaccessible due to bugs.
Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator has ample promise and a lot of heart, but wasn’t given enough time to grow. Most of the dads are lovely to get to know and worth dating. Players want to spend more time with these guys, but only get three relatively brief dates to whet their appetite. Then there’s the fact that it doesn’t yet feel finished due to a fair share of typographical issues, mishmash of art styles and the amount of gameplay bugs still impacting the experience. Once patches go out these latter issues should be resolved, but nothing short of DLC or a sequel will bring players more time with the cast of dads who simply weren’t given enough time in the spotlight to really shine.