THE WASHINGTON POST – Upon booting up Ooblets, I was immediately taken by its cheery and adorable presentation. Everything is bright, colourful, and all its characters are warm and friendly. The virtual world is a safe, happy bubble; a respite from our grim, pandemic-stricken realities. As someone who played The Last of Us Part II for the last month, which delves into heavy themes of loss and revenge, Ooblets is a welcome change of pace. As much as I loved its joyful vibe, though, it soon became clear that it needs more time in development before becoming something great.
Ooblets is an early access game, after all, meaning you play before full release as its creators tinker and iron out kinks. Available on PC and on Xbox One via Xbox Game Preview, Ooblets puts you in the shoes of an amateur farmer. It takes ideas from both Pokémon and Stardew Valley, but instead of completely replicating those concepts, it blends them together to form something fresh.
Your main goal in Ooblets is to catch, well, Ooblets. These are tiny, cute monsters that roam the world in small herds. After choosing which Ooblets Club to join, like the socially awkward Mimpins or the cocky Peaksnubs who say they’re a group for “born leaders”, you’re given a starter monster, just like you would in Pokémon. From there, you fight other Ooblets in frenzied dance battles, and if you win encounters, you gain the seed of your opponent. With that seed, you plant it in your garden, let it grow for an allotted time and later harvest it to receive a new Ooblet.
Combat plays out similar to the card battler Slay the Spire. In these turn-based fights, your cards are your Ooblets’ moves and you win by reaching a certain point total before your foe. Some cards let you stun opponents, accrue points, or power-up to make your manoeuvers more effective. Like the rest of its world, these battles are dripping with charm: Catchy music plays overhead while your Ooblets dance, sometimes even twerk, their way to victory. It’s a joy to watch, but combat in practice is lackluster. The enemy’s moves are too randomised to make sense and matches are too simple, requiring little strategy. Some fine-tuning and balancing is necessary for this portion of the game to sing.
Outside of fights, you can spend your time doing home improvement, transforming your decrepit shack into an eye-catching home. Everything is costly, either requiring resources or Gummies, which are the game’s main form of currency. Like Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Ooblets is dependent on its in-game capitalism: You perform labor (quests, battles, scrounging for resources) so you can reap rewards in buying furniture, clothes, sprinklers for your garden, and so on. It’s an addictive gameplay loop but I was left starving for more.
The biggest problem with Ooblets is there just isn’t enough to do. Even as the world opened up to other towns, these new areas offered little other than some more enemies to fight in the exact same fashion. Repetition is everywhere in Ooblets – most of the quest lines require battling or collecting resources – which grows stale after a while. Side activities like fishing aren’t fun either, requiring you to just wait after pressing a button to see what you reel in.
To make matters worse, I encountered a long list of bugs: Areas wouldn’t load properly; my character got stuck in objects in the world; and at one point I couldn’t read a quest description because it just said, “quest description.” A key component is missing from Ooblets to really make it all come together; for example, everything you do feels like a side quest, with little to no overarching story about why you moved here or your ultimate goal.
Yet, I kept playing, because it’s hard to turn away from the inviting and weird world of Ooblets. I enjoyed the dialogue of the townsfolk. All the Ooblets have cute, dorky names like Dumbirb and Unnyhunny. Even fishing is called “sea dangling”.
Ooblets introduces something special through that world, and if the developers take the time necessary to iron out the rest and perhaps introduce new gameplay to the mix, there could be something special here. The seeds of potential are there, and time will tell whether Ooblets blossoms into something better.