The indie game that mixes Pokémon, Stardew Valley, and Animal Crossing comes to early access and it’s a perfect slice of low-stakes gaming.
Of all the terrible abuse that gamers have heaped upon developers, publishers, and the general public over the years, the one that always sticks in our mind is Ooblets. A low budget mix of Pokémon and Stardew Valley, the game was signed up as an Epic Games Store exclusive and immediately saw the husband and wife team responsible subject to the most obscene abuse and death threats, all thrown at them by people that almost certainly had no interest in the game.
We’re pleased to see that developer Glumberland persevered though, as Ooblets has just started early access and it’s every bit as charming and relaxing as it always seemed it would be. Nintendo-esque is one of the first phrases that comes to mind, as while established publishers and developers are still strangely opposed to copying most of Nintendo’s best-selling games there’s been a recent flux of indie titles that show no such reticence.
The Pokémon-like Temtem was very good and the Animal Crossing-like Hokko Life also looks promising, but they’re pretty straightforward clones. Ooblets is more of a grab bag of different ideas, borrowing from multiple different games and also inventing ideas of its own. The set-up is very familiar though, as you’re cast as a new inhabitant of Badgetown, whose environs are the only known habit of the titular ooblets – cute little pokémon style creatures that many townsfolk have taken to collecting and breeding.
Catching ooblets doesn’t involve fighting them exactly, but instead a… collectible card-based dance-off. The cards are based on which other ooblets you have with you and the battle can only be initiated if you have an item or resource that the ooblet you’re facing is interested in. Once it starts you’re trying to hit a high score before your opponent, with most of the cards either adding or removing points, or applying various buffs and debuffs.
To be honest, this is probably the weakest element of the game, as it’s somewhat contrived and so easy it begins to feel a little superfluous. It reminded us a little of the romance sequences from Viva Piñata, in that the developer clearly realised that the game needed an extra action element but couldn’t really think of anything and had to shoehorn in a random mini-game instead.
It’s fine though and collecting the 40-odd ooblets is definitely compelling, especially as they all have shiny (sorry ‘gleamy’) variants and can be levelled up to unlock new cards. And while the dance battles aren’t that interesting from a gameplay perspective the fun animations and charming visual style are great, and pitch perfect for the kind of game Ooblets wants to be.
The other side of the game is maintaining your run-down farm and growing enough food for everyone to eat. This works very much in the traditional Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley style, as you buy seeds from town and then plant and water them every day. The twist is that ooblets are also grown from seeds and so, as well as growing normal plants, your vegetable patch also has little ooblet homes in it.
Much like Animal Crossing, there’s nothing you’re ever forced to do but the rest of the town is just as run-down as your farm and the mayor always has various errands for you to run, many revolving around fixing up the other buildings. There’s also crafting recipes to try and follow and daily tasks that work very much like Nook Miles from New Horizons, by providing you with a second in-game currency.
Unlike Animal Crossing, Ooblets doesn’t run in real-time but the length of a day is normally long enough for you to get everything you want done. And while you do have a stamina bar, that gradually decreases the more you work, it’s easily topped up by eating or having a quick nap.
As far as being an early access game goes, you’d barely guess in terms of normal gameplay, as while there are a few bugs and glitches it’s nothing compared to how most AAA games launch nowadays. However, the further you start to explore away from the town the more missing content and blocked-off areas there are, waiting for a future update and the final release.
We’re never fans of early access precisely because of things like that but if you take the current state of the game as an extended demo then we can definitely say that Ooblets is already growing us.
Release Date: 15th July 2020 (early access)
Age Rating: N/A
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