It always feels a little weird writing about games that you’ve followed for a long time. Rebecca Cordingley and Ben Wasser, who together make the indie studio Glumberland, have been working on Ooblets since 2016. In that time, they’ve documented that process in detail on their website, and I’ve seen features being implemented, funding opportunities come and go, and I’ve met a lot of ooblets, too. Now Ooblets is available in Early Access via the Epic Game Store, a decision that was initially met with a striking amount of harassment. Apart from a few bugs here and there, it feels pretty finished, and if you’ve also been waiting for the game for a while, you can dig in without hesitation.
The most important thing about Ooblets are certainly the ooblets themselves. Ooblets are small creatures that grow from seeds and live in and around Badgetown. They only want to have fun and dance battle each other, the rest of the time they trail after their adopter or chill in their oobcoop. Yes, there is a sequence where you pick a club to affiliate with and a starter oob, but I’ve yet to see clubs make an impact beyond that. Ooblets will dance with you if you bring them something they like – a foodstuff or a dish, for example. Dance battles take the form of a deck building card game, and each of your little friends adds different cards to the mix. There’s much to love about the dance battles, from the ooblets watching it take place to the stage lighting and of course each oob’s little wriggly moves. Once you win, you can ask the ooblet you just beat to give you a seed which you can then plant to get yourself a new friend. It’s the sheer variation of ooblets that makes them such a joy, if you like cute little creatures you just want to meet them all and see them in action.
But Ooblets is also part farming sim. When you first arrive, you’re given a decrepit farm house and some land, on which you can’t only grow ooblets but all kinds of produce to sell or make into new ingredients and dishes. With the money you earn this way you can expand and decorate your farmhouse.
Because people need simple shorthands to tell if something is of interest, Ooblets has often been called “Stardew Valley meets Pokémon”, but it really has a style of its own. It’s very colourful, with menu items and notifications bouncing around you, everything is full of round shapes and ice cream colours. The townsfolk are all very stylishly dressed, the furniture shop sells items with a certain Nordic flair.
Looking under the hood however, I was missing a central hook to the whole experience. Perhaps that’s just what happens once you’ve played every card battler and put triple digit hours into Stardew, but to me, Ooblets is missing a main story or quest structure to hold it together. It’s very undemanding. I appreciate that that’s exactly what people may need right now, and there’s no shame in playing a game for a little while and then simply putting it down, but Ooblets felt like a list of things I was methodically working down. There is even an actual list of things to work off! It’s very handy! It’s just that all you get for anything you do is a badge. Or an ooblet. And while the ooblets are cute, I’ve not encountered a single dance battle so far I haven’t won on the first try by a wide margin, and in some cases I’m oddly glad for that, seeing as it can take multiple in-game days to get the requested items to start a battle.
I’m sure that as my number of ooblets and their possible opponents grows, battles will become more challenging, but I don’t think Ooblets wants to be challenging, and that makes it miss the sweet spot between relaxing and a little boring. The only type of quest I complete are fetch quests. I grow a number of carrots and deliver them. I deliver the items to fix a sticker printing press so I get a sticker for regularly talking to other villagers. It all feels very mechanical, and it doesn’t go very deep. It’s nice to see your farm grow, but I reckon I’m at a point where it doesn’t give me pleasure to see something become bigger just for the heck of it.
This could all be down to balancing issues that get fixed later down the road, but right now Ooblets is almost… too chill for me. The babyspeak it uses adds to the feeling that this is a very simple affair. You don’t go fishing, you go “sea dangling”. You grow “caroots”. Villagers say things like “It’s important for your mental health to go out at least once a month” – it’s all very quippy, but I yearn for one real conversation, one task that isn’t just “grow this and bring it to me”. I don’t know how finished Ooblets is at this point in that regard – the devlog makes it sound pretty finished. Maybe I want it to be something it isn’t and you’re just supposed to grow a few things here and there and not worry too much.
Play Ooblets for nice little things like that nice shine effect on the dance battle cards or a mushroom-shaped ooblet doing the Floss. Just don’t expect it to be the next Pokémon or Stardew Valley. It isn’t, and it doesn’t have the ambition to be.