Sugar, spice, and everything nice
As this blur of a summer wears on, I’ve found myself drawn to wholesome games more than ever. Games that lift me up, give me something pleasant to focus on, and let my mind rest – if only for a bit.
Ooblets sits at the top of the feel-good list. It’s a critter-collecting, crop-growing, townsfolk-chatting life sim with dance battles and afternoon naps. As soon as I got my first Lumpstump, I was all-in.
If you’re susceptible to this laid-back genre, you’re gonna love Ooblets, even in its Early Access state.
Ooblets (PC [reviewed], Xbox One)
Released: July 15, 2020 (Early Access)
Although you’ll settle into a cozy routine before long, a typical day in Ooblets is anything but typical. This is a whimsical world in which little creatures roam the streets and have their own devoted fan clubs.
As the curious new face in town, you’ll join one of several Ooblet clubs to earn your first companion, introduce yourself to all 16 locals, pop in the shops to figure out which items and upgrades you’ll want to save up for, pluck some mushrooms, and plant seeds back at your less-than-pristine homestead.
From there, you can go at your preferred pace and prioritize goals and friendships as you see fit. To be clear, there are explicit goals – the kid mayor always needs help with Tinstle Tasks, which often involve donating bundles of items to fix up important buildings – but Ooblets is easygoing. It has vacation vibes.
Days last long enough that you don’t have to rush to cram in every activity before sunset, and while the protagonist does have a finite energy bar that’s worn down by shaking trees, watering plants, and ripping out weeds, they can top it up by taking a nap (or several!) or snacking on Wonka-esque treats.
This game is a familiar package with familiar ideas wrapped up in a wonderful aesthetic.
Here’s something you may not have realized, even if you’ve caught a few trailers: Ooblets has a light card-based battle system, and that’s how you’ll fill out the (currently) 40-critter-strong almanac.
Don’t worry! No one gets hurt. If you see an Ooblet roaming around town that you want to woo and you have their preferred home-grown resource or craftable item, you can challenge them to a dance-off.
In essence, these are fluffy, not-too-serious turn-based battles. You’ll draw random cards from your deck (based on which Ooblets you brought into the dance battle), activate them using a rechargeable pool of energy, and try to earn a certain amount of points before your competition. Some cards straight-up add points to your total, while others can leech points from the enemy team or set up an unstoppable snowball effect with the right buffs and debuffs. It’s not high-stakes, and that’s okay.
At first, the combat system seemed too limited to have any real staying power, but the more Ooblets I experimented with, the more it seemed to open up. That goes double for the tournaments held in the barn – those battles have more interesting conditions to work around and the AI tries harder.
As for the critters, there’s a strong drive to collect ’em all, which is the more important question for a game like this. Ooblets have uncommon and “gleamy” variants to seek out, there’s a basic XP-based leveling hook to unlock new cards, and you can fill out trophy cases with Ooblet statues in town hall.
The mushroom-bodied Shrumbo is like a plushie brought to life. Isopud is a plump grump. Tamlin and Tud would look the part in a lost-in-the-desert, I’m-officially-seeing-things mirage. They’re lovable af.
My favorite part of Ooblets is that nearly every daily-life element is tied together in a natural way. Case in point, the Ooblets you leave on the farm (your “Home Babies”) can live in coops and pitch in.
Apart from the basic currency used for buying and selling goods (Gummies), there’s a scarcer meta currency (Wishies) that can be spent at the Wishywell in the center of town to unlock crafting recipes, attract new types of Ooblets, and buff up your character’s run speed, among other upgrades.
Here’s the clever part: you can earn Wishies by clearing daily tasks, meeting milestones in your journal (think Animal Crossing stamps, but simpler), or reaching new levels of friendship with the townsfolk, who usually just want to chat once a day and occasionally want a particular gift. In other words, you’re motivated left and right for just playing the game, and you have a lot of choice over your rewards.
I was tempted to focus on the more immediate story-driven Tinstle Tasks – and collecting as many Ooblets as possible because they’re so dang cute – but the farm matters too. Some crops are on the slow-as-heck side, and weeds, stones, and sticks will quickly overrun your plot if left unchecked.
There are also fashion and home decor pieces to work toward if that’s your jam, but given the unfinished state of the game and plan for big content updates, I wanted to leave some stuff for later.
I’ve had my fun for just over 10 hours, and that’s the point at which I’m calling it good for now.
The further you get with the story goals – especially after you take a hot air balloon to another zone – the more you’ll encounter placeholder dialogue and item descriptions. Ooblets isn’t complete yet.
You’ll notice that in terms of missing content (later areas like Nullwhere are locked off) and in terms of visual quirks and bugs (I’ve struggled with infrequent but frustrating “stuck” loading screens). In this context – in this vibrant, charming, far-enough-along-as-is game – I wasn’t too bothered. On the flip side, I wouldn’t want to overexert myself and “do everything” yet. It’s too early for that mindset.
I can easily picture Ooblets growing into an unmissable slice-of-life game further into its Early Access roadmap, but if you’re comfortable with a bit of work-in-progress wonkiness, you shouldn’t wait.
[This scoreless review is based on an Early Access build of the game provided by the publisher.]