It doesn’t matter how many independent developers and studios you follow on social media. Even if it’s just a few, it’s highly likely that you have heard or seen a fragment of Ooblets during the past few years. Its charming aesthetic brought by the team at Glumberland is bound to catch your eye immediately, and based on my time with its early access build that released today, the soothing and chill vibe translates to each and every aspect.
Being honest, I lost track of what Ooblets was about during its development process. I’m aware there has been several changes, but the current pitch stands between a farming sim with the social component you would come to expect from games like Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley. And then there’s the ooblets, which carry a Pokémon vibe all around, found all over the island your character is moving in.
The town mayor greets you with open arms and a lot of work to do. The ground is starting to become filled with litter all of the sudden, many of the stores and friendly citizens all have their work-in-progress projects that are in need of resources from yours truly, and then there’s the short and snappy gathering mission here and there. I wasn’t entirely sold on the scope of the town, feeling more as a hub for something else not yet included on this early build, such as the so-called Wildlands on the northern side of the map. The first few in game days were also a bit bare bones in terms of progress, but everything soon began to open up.
Yes, the game is separated in between days. You get an invisible time all the way from the morning to midnight, time in which you’re free to roam around the town looking for new ooblets, completing tasks, helping the townsfolk, and gathering everything you can find from the floor. The catch is that most actions require energy. The energy meter is rather generous, but it will vary wildly – shaking a tree or chopping a big wooden block costs more than picking up a couple seashells or trash cans, for example.
You can purchase, find, or cook food and snacks that will grant you energy so you can make the most of your day, and they are pretty abundant. As usual I was skeptical of using them all at once, but from day 4 and onward they were my go to when I wanted to finish some tasks and my character was already tired in the afternoon. There’s a certain rush that comes with these type of games were you try to do every single task you can before your character is literally dragging themself to bed, but some NPCs will quickly remind you to not try and become the king of Ooblets in a rush. And it’s definitely better when you take your time with each interaction.
Which is my way to say that the writing is charming and breezy. Everything from objectives like “go explore around a bit or something” or the many whimsical dialogues are a welcoming change of pace. It’s easy to grow a tendency to skip dialogue in order to obtain whichever you want and move on to the next NPC, but I don’t have this rush here. Over time the occasional loose comments from characters became questions where I was able to choose between different answers, and just before starting to write this I helped a townsfolk to repair a sticker machine, which in return unlocked the friendship mechanic. This, alongside another project that gives you hints for gifts or items some folks would like to receive, has added yet another interesting layer on what seemed as only funny interactions at first.
But how about them ooblets? Well, during your first steps into the island you’re given the choice to join one of four factions, which feels similar to choosing your starter Pokémon. I went for this cut robot called Sidekick (although you’re free to rename them), who immediately started following my character. You’re always stumbling upon them on the town and its whereabouts, but in order to obtain one you’re gonna have to plant them on your garden, watering them and using fertilizers to speed up their growth (which can take a couple of in game days). There’s a store in town dedicated to selling some of these seeds, but the best way to do it is to look for ooblets and challenge them to a duel. Wait, did I say duel? I meant dance.
Yes, there is no combat in Ooblets, but instead these adorable creatures will show off their dance moves on a vibrant circle surrounded by a dancing audience. These turn-based encounters are cheery and incredibly charming, yet hold an interesting challenge underneath. Each ooblet has its own set of cards, which increases every time they level up. During your turn, the energy is represented by beats, and each card has a certain cost. The trick is that instead of dealing damage to your opponent you are using dance moves to increase your points.
Regular battles can ask for 20 points, for example, and cards carry their own flavor. You can steal points from the opposite team, stun a certain ooblet for a number of turns, give yourself hype to increase your odds, and use lots of other buffs and debuffs. If you win, you’ll be given the chance to ask your adversary for a seed, and in a matter of days the ooblet will be on your party.
These seemed rather easy at first, and I was worried about how much depth they would be able to introduce, since the deckbuilding side of things isn’t as deep as you’d expect from other games in the subgenre. But quickly after I was surprised with larger battles that challenged two, three, or even five ooblets against each other. These gives you more beats to use, but the rule applies for both teams. There was a dance competition where I wasn’t able to obtain points at all, since my points kept getting stolen over and over. Another one gave me so many debuffs that all my cards became useless. But it’s okay, you can always try again, and luckily the story-related encounters present variation as well, so it’s only a matter of obtaining different ooblets or leveling them up if you’re struck.
Something I’m not a fan of is that these encounters have a fee of sorts. You will often see ooblets in town eager for you to pet them (yes, you can pet them all) or challenge them, but specific ooblets ask for specific items. I’m guessing this is a way to prevent from you to spend all your day grinding, going back to the sentiment of taking your time and enjoy the thrill of exploring rather than pure competition, but it can become frustrating when you have literally picked up everything in town. In these cases I had to either called it a day or purchase the specific seeds I needed and play the long game until they were ready for harvest.
But it’s okay. Despite what seems as a small scope at first, Ooblets encourages you to take it lightly and unravel the world at a slow pace. I loved my time with Animal Crossing: New Horizons, but I quickly grew tired of the constant pressure and abandoned what was becoming a daily routine. In here I can take my time earning badges and making friendships, tending to my farm and spending probably too much on clothes for my character or furniture. I’m excited to see how the game evolves during early access, but for now, I’m already planning my next few days in town. Ooblets is slowly, and in due time, becoming the escape I was looking for.