Editor's note: This review evaluates Ooblets based on its early access state. We plan on reviewing Ooblets again once it gets a full release.
Ooblets is a charming little game, which is immediately apparent upon booting it up. You're greeted with a loading screen that lets you know the game is taking the time to "delete negative reviews" and "make you wait" before getting blasted with an onslaught of bright colors and an adorable soundtrack that you can really groove to. I've seen firsthand what this game can do to people: My roommate sashays to the beat whenever he walks by my door while I'm playing. I'd make fun of him for it if I didn't catch myself doing the exact same thing.
Ooblets maintains its cutesy tongue-in-cheek humor and visuals all throughout. The catchy soundtrack never lets up either, firmly establishing Ooblets as another one of those relaxing life simulator games that will assuredly take an embarrassing amount of hours from my life by the time it's done with me. It's not locked up inside during quarantine with me; I'm very much locked up inside with it. Which isn't to say the game doesn't have its problems--I've run into more than a few throughout my 15 hours with it--but there's definitely an enjoyable gameplay loop here.
Right off the bat, Ooblets doesn't do many favors for itself, though, as the game's character creator isn't very diverse. There are no options for changing facial features--my character just looks like a dark-skinned white person--and hair options are extremely limited. You can at least unlock new hairstyles, but it's weird that all of the options that you'd normally associate with people of color (like an afro or sari headwrap) need to be bought with in-game currency, and you'll likely not have enough to do so for your first few days. So if you're a person of color and you want your character to look like you, you'll just have to role-play as a dark-skinned white person until you can raise enough money to get the hair that looks like yours. It's upsetting to see the initial character creator geared away from people of color. I'm happy the options are at least there, but it's a hollow sense of joy seeing that the game demands I pay to appear like me, while most white players will likely be able to capture their likeness from the get-go.
However, after that initial disappointment, I did enjoy what Ooblets has to offer. Ooblets is divided into three core gameplay loops: dance battles, farm and home management, and quests. All three revolve around the titular ooblets. Ooblets (as in the creatures) are small, sentient beings that love to dance. Some are plant-like in nature while others are more robotic, and just as many are styled after real-like animals. The game never really establishes what they are or where they came from--much like Pokemon in the Pokemon games, ooblets are just creatures native to the world of Ooblets.
You're given an ooblet at the start of your adventure, and you use it (along with the others you grow on your farm--we'll get to that later) in Ooblets' card-based dance battles. Ooblets' combat is a very approachable system that's almost comically easy in the beginning. The dance battles are far more enjoyable once your ooblets have leveled up a few times and you've unlocked new cards, as both wild ooblets and your fellow ooblet trainers will start going after you with a bit more aggressiveness once you've grown stronger. This, in turn, encourages you to be a bit more strategic in which ooblets you keep on your team and which cards you use in combat. It never becomes hard enough to become stressful, though, and in my 15 hours with the game, I've only lost once.
In Ooblets, you'll always have the same collection of general cards that are key for winning. These are cards that are always in your deck, regardless of which ooblets you pick to have on your team. As fights are dance battles, you compete by playing cards that make your ooblets perform different dance moves. These dances can have several different effects, such as raising your overall score, stealing points from your opponent, increasing how many cards you can play a turn, or stunning your foe and causing them to skip their turn. The strength of these cards is dependent on hype and fluster--the former increases their overall effect and the latter decreases it--both of which can be adjusted with certain cards. As you only have a certain amount of power to expend each turn and different cards have different power levels, you have to weigh whether to raise your score, lower your opponent's, buff yourself, nerf your foe, or some combination of those four strategies. It's a worthwhile system of risk vs reward once the battles start getting harder, especially when each ooblet's unique deck-building abilities come into play.
As each ooblet adds a different assortment of cards specific to them to your overall deck, there is a welcome level of strategy in regards to which ooblets you pair with one another in battle. As I began to learn what each ooblet brought to the table, my strategies satisfyingly evolved to be more efficient. I especially liked pairing my starter robotic key-looking ooblet, Sidekey (which I nicknamed Klefki for no discernable reason) with a tree stump-looking ooblet I acquired, Lumpstump (which I nicknamed Phantump--shut up, it's clever). Sidekeys can acquire cards that are good for helping teammates use their cards multiple times, and as Lumpstumps level up, they get cards that exponentially increase the number of points you can gain in a turn the more often you use them. The two are a powerhouse match, and I shuffle them into my deck in every fight that requires I use at least two ooblets.
But Ooblets is about more than dance battles. Farming and home management are where the game really leans into its relaxing rhythm of checking off tasks. When you first start Ooblets, your house is a decrepit shack in a field that's full of weeds, fallen trees, and rocks. With enough resources, you can fix up your place, expand it, and fill it out with new furniture, wallpaper, and flooring. You can transform your miserable-looking field into a fully-functioning farm as well. In the beginning, all you can do is clear up your yard, plant seeds, and heft a watering can back-and-forth from a nearby faucet. But by purchasing their blueprints and finding the materials to craft them, you can construct different types of sprinklers to keep your crops hydrated automatically. You can also build little coops for all your excess ooblets that you're not using in your party, and the creatures will thank you for building them homes by caring for your farm while you're away.
It's a nice symbiotic relationship--whether you're fighting or farming, you're always growing.
Bettering your home and farm is a slow process. Your character has a limited amount of energy per in-game day, which they expend by doing things--whether that's clearing brush or planting seeds. You can recover a bit of energy by napping, but you lose precious hours in your day by doing so. It's far more effective to eat desserts or drink coffee, which you likely won't be able to at the start of your playthrough because you just won't have the resources for crafting them. I spent a lot of my initial in-game days in ooblet dance battles as opposed to farming, as clearing something as small as a three-by-three space, fertilizing the nine plots, planting the nine seeds, and watering each one would almost leave my character exhausted. It's a frustrating way to begin, and I wouldn't blame someone for lacking the stubbornness to make it over that initial hump. But clearing it is an immensely satisfying reward--I'll sometimes stop playing just to gaze at my nearly autonomous farm in self-adulation, even if it's the hard work of my unpaid ooblet workforce that's making me hundreds, sometimes thousands a day.
There is a bit of a connection between dance battles and farming. Defeating a wild ooblet in battle allows you to ask them for their seed, which they'll happily fart into your hand. You then take this seed back to your farm in order to grow the ooblet you defeated, allowing you to add them to your team or put them to work on your farm. In this way, the two systems feed into one another. Winning fights allows you to grow your workforce and make you a better farmer, and growing new partners unlocks new combat strategies for you. It's a nice symbiotic relationship--whether you're fighting or farming, you're always growing. Unfortunately, the same really can't be said for Ooblet's third gameplay loop, quests.
Quests are where you'll find Ooblets' very thin story. As the new face in town, you volunteer to help the mayor with different tasks in exchange for your starting shed and farm. Most require you to collect a specific resource or craft certain types of food. Much like farming, it's repetitive work. But unlike farming, there's little in the way of satisfaction for completing your tasks. Finish the four or so things that the mayor has tasked you to do that week, and you'll just unlock more busywork. The only substantial reward you get is for completing the quest to fix Gimble's hot air balloon, as it unlocks a new area for you to travel to. This quest also unlocks somewhat of a main questline for Ooblets, which is to fix all the Oobnet Towers around the island in order to reconnect the internet.
I can appreciate a mayor who wants good Wi-Fi for her people, but the game doesn't provide a very compelling reason to pursue her mission. There's just no substance to that story. And to complete these quests, the mayor or other townsfolk typically ask you to give them something you've grown or crafted. Quests are, admittedly, a good outlet for farming and fighting--you can toss all your excess crops and materials at them--but they still feel a bit disjointed in that you don't gain anything for completing them that you can then funnel into the other two gameplay loops.
Of the five areas in the game--Badgetown, Mamoonia, the Wildlands, Nullwhere, and Port Forward--you can only go to the first two as Ooblets is in early access, so the storyline to fix all the towers abruptly stops right when you're getting into it. I've run into quite a few bugs as well. I've walked into buildings only to see the occupants' feet dangling in midair as their heads are seemingly attached to the ceiling--which gave me quite the fright the first time I saw it as I was suddenly sure that I had just walked into a mass of hangings and Ooblets' story was about to take a more morbid murder-mystery turn. There have been far more frustrating issues as well, such as the world not loading during area transitions or gameplay just freezing mid-combat. In these instances, I've had to close Ooblets and restart the game, which has caused me to lose progress if the autosave didn't swoop in before the bug happened.
Additionally, as there are only two available areas and one of them is a fairly linear location that you only have to visit once or twice, there's not much to see or do once you've actually gotten into the swing of things and are ready to tackle bigger challenges. I'm desperately yearning for a change of scenery that provides more than the hub-like Badgetown and pretty much one-and-done Mamoonia. What's here is a good taste of Ooblets' overall experience, but that's all it is right now--a taste.
Despite being in early access, Ooblets has a well-established identity. It's a charming-looking game with characters and items with names that are all cheeky puns, and its relaxing gameplay loops leave you feeling good because you're bettering the living conditions of both yourself and the townsfolk. It's a very positive game, and I'll no doubt lose a lot more time to it once it leaves early access. In its current form, it's got some annoying bugs, and since it's not finished, there's not much reason to stick around once you've accomplished the initial set of tasks that the mayor sets out for you. But what's there is already a pretty substantial game. The card-based dance battles are adorable, it's fun to build new decks and try out different strategies, and there's such a deep satisfaction in transforming your modest beginnings into a beautiful farm. I want there to be more, but what's already here is pretty good.