Dream Daddy: More Than Just Dating Dads?
Let’s start off the new year of The Vault Publication right by talking about that gay dad dating sim that the internet has been freaking out about since July. Yes, we’re kicking things off with Dream Daddy, so find a comfy chair and get ready to hear about some DILFs!
I first heard about the game before it was released through some Tumblr posts and, initially, I laughed at the ridiculous concept and how it was produced in-part by Game Grumps. While Dream Daddy doesn’t take itself too seriously, it does touch on topics such as family relationships, grief, friendship, romance, and plenty of darker subjects. The primary objective is to meet and date dads, eventually going beyond this as you, the dadsona, get settled into your new town, Maple Bay. Obviously, you’re in it to date some dads, but the player must remember to cultivate a supportive parental relationship with their daughter, Amanda, to help her navigate her own problems and prepare her to go to college. There’s a lot I want to say about it, so let’s start with the music.
The theme song is way too catchy. I can’t get it out of my head and I live in silent fear that I’ll get caught humming it and have to explain myself. Don’t blame me if you go listen to it and then find it in your head for the next week. Theme song aside, the background music in the game itself is also quite nice, often matching the mood and helping to enhance the setting. Did I mention it’s catchy? Not much else to say. It’s all just really catchy.
Next up, the art. I love the character designs in this game. Each character is distinct and their appearances reflect their personalities and interests, making every character memorable based on appearance alone. Even minor characters clearly have thought and attention put into their designs and the quality of the art itself. The backgrounds are colourful and include minor details such as items on desks, drawn simply to ensure that attention is kept on the characters rather than the background. Some people have complained about the varying art styles, yet I find it quite refreshing (especially the dad pin-ups because none of them look alike.) Possibly the only thing about the art that bothers me is how the dadsona doesn’t seem to match the art of the other characters. I wish there was some more shading for hair and eyes, for example. The other characters have really interesting eye colours, yet the dadsona has a flat, single-colour for his eyes. However, I can’t complain too much because I was somehow able to make my dadsona look quite a bit like me.
Now for the part you’ve all been waiting for: the dads. SPOILERS AHEAD, so if you don’t want to know how any of the dates end, skip reading the summary about them. Craig, Brian, and Mat won’t have spoilers because I haven’t finished their routes yet. So, here they are in order from most to least favourite.
Damien is probably my favourite of the dads, yet not for the same reasons as many people online (*cough,* TUMBLR RUINS EVERYTHING, *cough.* More on that later.) An eccentric goth dad with a sweet temperament is hard to turn down. On the first date, the player learns that Damien loves gardening (namely the historical symbolism behind flowers), is a geek, and he isn’t familiar with My Chemical Romance despite having an edgy goth son and being goth himself. On the second and third dates, the player learns that there’s more to Damien than appearances would let on. He’s self-conscious of the player not liking him when they find out that he is actually scared of horror movies, volunteers at animal shelters, and works in IT. Overall, Damien is probably one of the sweetest of the dads and has quite a broad range of interests that go far beyond his cliche, vampire-like facade. He’s also supportive of his troubled son, Lucien, without exasperating him. While it’s hard for me to find anything negative to say about him, I do have plenty of criticism on how the internet has received him. On the first date, it’s possible to learn that Damien is trans when he briefly mentions being glad to find [Victorian] period-appropriate binders. Otherwise, the fact is never mentioned, and can easily be missed as it isn’t referenced at any other point during the game. No other character makes reference to Damien’s transgender status in any way and yet, in classic Tumblr fashion, fans decided it was a good idea to overlook all of Damien’s interesting personality traits and just focus on how he’s a canon trans character. They’ve just been saying “my sweet uwu trans baby,” which makes me mad because it’s resulted in the fandom glossing over the fact that he’s an adult man and should be treated like one. Ignoring the fandom, I love him as a character for having a great personality and real insecurities we all struggle with.
Tied for my favourite is Hugo, the English teacher dad. Not only did I laugh at the literary jokes peppered through his dialogue, but I loved how much more there was to him than met the eye. Like Damien, he has an image of being an intellectual to keep up and he’s keenly aware of it. His son, Ernest (specifically Ernest Hemingway Vega), is rebellious and despises his father for being so “uptight”. Hugo even confides in the dadsona that Ernest prefers his other dad because he’s laid back and doesn’t care if his homework is done or not. Hugo is caught between trying to be responsible and trying to win his son’s love: a difficult dilemma for any parent. The player also finds out that he’s not only passionate about literature, but he’s also a big fan of wrestling and even has an entire room of his house dedicated to his memorabilia. He’s embarrassed to admit this, but later takes pride in the hobby and even earns a reputation of being a cool teacher among his students when he’s seen by some students with the dadsona at a wrestling match. Much like Damien, he struggles with being insecure of how people will view him if he lets his true colours show: something I think anyone can personally relate to. Being an English major and quite passionate about my own interests as well, I love Hugo and his personality. Oh, did I mention Hugo loves wine and cheese? Just thought I’d throw that in if you weren’t already convinced that Hugo is an awesome, under-appreciated dad. (He’s, sadly, probably one of the least favourite for most people.)
Robert, first met in a bar drinking whiskey, is the definition of a badass. On his dates, he and the dadsona cause some local mayhem, go wood carving in the woods, attempt to hunt cryptids, and crash a ghost tour. Robert is rather quirky, often telling morbid stories (that sound suspiciously real) as his jokes and expresses distaste for people who talk aimlessly. He is shown to not respond to his Dadbook (a social network for dads to talk to other dads) messages for hours on end for seemingly no reason before making good on it by night. He prefers to keep the player at a distance by providing limited and confusing information that, combined with his stories, can sometimes make it difficult to know whether he’s being serious or not. Simply put, Robert is probably the most mysterious of the dads and one of the hardest to get to know. This, however, has hardly stopped him from becoming a fan favourite. He eventually confides in the player that he has regrets about how strained his relationship is with his daughter. Robert also reveals that he struggles with depression. Playing through his route, it was interesting to see a character that is managing a mental illness and the personal journey he undergoes through the dates to begin to forgive and improve himself; it’s quite relatable. On another interesting note, the dadsona has a chance to have a one night stand with Robert after meeting him at the bar, yet they won’t be able to date him if they choose this option. In today’s world, it’s refreshing to see an instance where casual sex actually leads to hurt feelings between the dadsona and Robert rather than both parties walking away without any affections.
Mat Sella embodies the hipster aesthetic, running a laid-back coffee house and making music references that many people won’t get. Every item on the menu includes a music pun, too. He also has an interest in art, showing himself to be rather cultured. He’s one of the few dads that can successfully carry on an intellectual discussion with Hugo (and actually know what he’s talking about). Aside from his love of music and trying to perfect his banana bread recipe, Mat shows an interesting self-awareness for his role as a father. Despite embracing the hipster scene, often hanging out with young people at indie concerts, he makes a remark about how he knows he won’t be seen as cool forever. Overall, a casual artsy guy is probably the next dad I’ll date; he’s just my cup of tea (get it? Because he runs a coffee house? Okay, I think I’m taking this dad joke thing too far.)
Craig is a college friend of the dadsona who has settled into the role of a father of three and coaching his daughter’s baseball team. He’s first seen by the dadsona and Amanda while taking a jog with his daughter, River, harnessed to his chest “for the resistance training.” The dadsona is impressed to see how he’s changed from that friend who did keg stands (and allegedly drank a jar of marinara sauce for dinner one time) to a fit and responsible father. While I haven’t done his date route yet, it’s easy to see why Craig is another fan favourite. Being a classic bro (who frequently says “dude”) who easily picks up where he left off with the player during their college years, it’s hard to not like Craig’s warm personality and how he encourages the dadsona to improve himself.
Brian the rival dad seems to have everything the dadsona does but better. When the natural dad instincts kick in, the player finds themself in a mock-Pokemon battle against Brian and his daughter, Daisy, where the goal is to brag about your daughter the most. I’ve never successfully beaten Brian at the bragging battle, but there are some rather comical options to choose from that capture how ridiculous parents can be when it comes to showing off how talented their kids are. The rivalry only continues, though. While I haven’t dated Brian, either, his date route is filled with competitive spirit, from mini golfing to fishing. The best part is, Brian is a good sport, accepting defeat with grace much to the dadsona’s annoyance. Even better, Amanda and Daisy get along very well and he has an adorable corgi. What’s not to like?
To put it bluntly, Joseph is a dick despite appearing to be the perfect, faultless neighbour. I only dated him for the achievement (and because margaritas are involved and margaritas are awesome), but there’s more to it for me. Knowing that Joseph is the only married dad in the game, it’s no surprise to hear that his route deals with themes of infidelity. His wife, Mary, has an alcohol abuse problem and is almost always seen with a glass of wine in hand and is often at the bar with Robert. Both issues have affected people close to me, so it interested me to see such heavy issues being explored in what’s otherwise a fluffy dating sim. While Joseph appears to just be the cool youth minister dad, he has a dark side for a number of reasons. For one, he starts off appearing to be harmless, simply asking the player to help him with church events. One thing leads to another, and the player soon finds that they’re a homewrecker when Mary and Joseph split up. At this point, the ending where he leaves his wife is bugged and won’t trigger, yet it doesn’t matter that they reconcile. Joseph sleeps with the dadsona on the third date and is interested in continuing to cheat on Mary if the player gets his “good ending.” Yikes. To make matters worse, the “Escape From Maragrita Zone” achievement is currently unattainable and fans believe this is going to change with possible DLC to come. There is a deleted ending for Joseph that can be played on its own when ported to a visual novel engine that reveals that Joseph is a cult leader that serves a sinister god, essentially killing people and making people miserable. It’s hinted at that Joseph is the reason why there are so many single dads, including why the dadsona’s ex spouse, Alex, died. Canon or not, it’s pretty awful and only really shows that Joseph is far worse than the player could ever guess based on his appearance and initial interactions. While I think he’s the worst dad in my books, I think his role in the game is very interesting and added a layer of complexity to a game that otherwise doesn’t have as much depth by including the bitter reality of infidelity and alcoholism, making the game more interesting and meaningful as a whole.
Overall, I’ve been loving Dream Daddy. Having a dating sim with characters from all different races, sexualities, religious beliefs, and even gender identities is fantastic, especially when it doesn’t feel like it’s pandering to the demands of political correctness. Instead, the dads and the other characters in Maple Bay feel naturally diverse, much like people you could potentially meet in real life.
Having a game that portrays LGBT identities in a casual and positive narrative is something the world has needed and this game has certainly delivered with a funny and light-hearted game about dating dads. Interestingly, many popular, straight YouTubers have been playing it as well. So, if you like dad jokes and want to fall in love with a great cast of characters, Dream Daddy is a game you shouldn’t pass up.