Ooblets: Early Access preview

To summarise Ooblets as simply as possible: it’s part Animal Crossing, part Stardew Valley, and part Pokémon. That’s quite an odd combination of different genres and influences, but many past games following a similar pattern have proven to be greater than the sums of their parts.

Ooblets is about starting a new life for yourself in the seaside borough of Badgetown, a quirky village where people live offbeat existences and collect small creatures known as ooblets. The mayor welcomes you to the town with a grand ceremony where you join a club to own your first creature, and then moves you into the decrepit farmhouse where you can begin raising crops.

You can already see how these comparisons were made, but there’s actually a lot more to Ooblets than just being a Stardew or Pokémon clone. For one, you can fight other ooblets using your own, as you transition to a turn-based battle of you versus your opponent. But instead of fighting with sticks and stones, ooblets settle their differences by dancing. The game shifts into a turn-based deckbuilder where you use cards to perform different dance moves, build up a metre and defeat your opponent. This is accompanied by a funky disco track and wacky dance animations, and it certainly caught me off guard the first time I played through the intro.

On the surface you can see why you might categorise Ooblets as a “wholesome” game. It features cute art, cartoonish animations and silly sound effects. Those ingredients all compliment the quirky characters and quiet seaside town setting, but spend more than five minutes playing the game and it feels a lot more sinister than that. The town constantly feels like it’s on fire, with everyone running around like their dials are tuned up to max, and the poor ooblets forced to dance away their problems on command. These characters aren’t wholesome, they’re every bit eccentric.

The snarky humour also reinforces this quirkiness. Characters often talk in nonsense, utilising an alt-language reminiscent of ‘lul so random’ writing you found on social media and internet forums about half a decade ago. At first it was endearing. There are many jokes that land perfectly and it adds to the tone of Ooblets perfectly. But the humour eventually wanes off as every line feels awkward and forced, and it prevents the characters from ever having personalities of their own. It’s like if you were surrounded by adults who solely communicated in baby talk. It’s funny for a moment, tiresome for a whole week. There are roughly two dozen characters in Ooblets, and they don’t nearly have as much variety in their identities as Animal Crossing’s 400+ villagers.

Right now the game is in Early Access, and therefore a lot about it is still subject to change. The dialogue may be too unusual for me right now, but that’s not to say this can’t be tweaked further down the line. 

Another feature I expect to go through many changes is the farming. When you’re not exploring Badgetown or battling other ooblets, you’re putting your back into some serious farming work in the same way Stardew Valley portrays the agricultural lifestyle. Similarly, it works on a tiles system where you can till, plant seeds and water each square, and then wait for the crop to grow. Right now there isn’t a whole lot to it, and it’s extremely derivative of its predecessors, so it would be nice to see how this can be changed and expanded upon in the future.

Then there’s the quest system, which is fairly basic in its current form. Each ingame day you get three tasks to complete, but they’re very cookie cutter right now. They mostly involve collecting a certain item or talking to a specific character, and there isn’t much depth to it. It’d be nice to see more attention given to this, and expanded to include deeper storylines and areas outside of Badgetown to venture to.

Right now the game is interesting enough to keep playing, especially as monthly updates have been planned by Glumberland, but it’s also still an experience that’s going to cater to a very specific type of player and may not necessarily work even for big Pokémon and Story of Seasons fans. The whimsical characters and subtropical coastal setting is no doubt a huge factor of the appeal, but the dialogue is what will make or break it.

Disclosure a copy of Ooblets was provided by Popagenda PR

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