I worried that time would not be on Ooblets's side. I first heard of it when it was under its old name, Moblets; back efore Double Fine picked it up for publishing and later dropped it following its Microsoft acquisition; before it was announced as an Epic Games Store exclusive on PC and riled up the worst sorts of "fans." Before leagues of indie games clued into a cute, low-poly aesthetic released in waves. When I played a demo of "Moblets" at Day of the Devs in 2016, I was immediately entranced. In 2017, under its new name Ooblets, I remained delighted by it as I danced through it again.
Thankfully, time hasn't stolen much of Ooblets's thunder. Over the past week, I've spent hours getting charmed by Ooblets all over again, this time thanks to its new early access release on Epic Games Store.
It's exactly what you've heard it is: a Stardew Valley-like (ahem, or Harvest Moon) with a dash of Pokemon sprinkled in. There's a cute town and friendships to cultivate, a garden to manage, and Ooblets—cute little egg-shaped monsters that sprout from the earth—to collect. They sprout out of the ground, but you have to grow them first. Even with a just-like-Pokemon-but-on-PC early access competitor in Temtem, Ooblets manages to shine with its own clever twists on the familiar formula.
In the early access build of Ooblets, there are two primary areas: the town of Badgetown, where your farmhouse is located in addition to a medley of shops and NPC homes, and Mamoonia, which is accessible once you unlock the hot air balloon. Two additional areas, named Nullwhere and Point Forward, are currently not accessible. There's also a mysterious locked gate at the back of Badgetown, which Ooblets currently notes in-game is a busted feature. Still, there's plenty to do even though it's only just entered early access. At about 10 hours in, I still haven't capped off all the storied quests, nor have cultivated every plant and Ooblet there is to grow so far.
Get Jiggy With It
Growing Ooblets is where the Pokemon-side of it blooms. You collect the little critters to fill up an Almanac—Ooblets's answer to the Pokedex. To attain new Ooblets, your only avenue is to challenge roaming Ooblets to a dance battle, provided you have a resource they want, such as four planks. The dance battles are wicked adorable; some toe-tapping track will start playing immediately—the music is easily my favorite thing about Ooblets so far—and then with your current party of Ooblets, you enter battle.
Dance battles in Ooblets aren't like Pokemon's turn-based battles. They're card-based (wait, wait, come back!), with each Ooblet having their own unique abilities. The first Ooblets team to reach the maximum number of points per round—which stretches from just 20 to 40, depending on the dance battle—emerges victorious. In the dance battles, players have a certain amount of "beats" (i.e. turns) to use per round. Every card costs a certain amount of beats. For instance, a card that costs three beats might take six points from the opposing player's point total. Another card that costs one beat might not net you any points at all; it might just cast a debuff (called "Fluster") onto the opponent, weakening all their cards. ("Hype," in turn, is a buff that strengthens cards.)
It's simple in scope, and was perhaps too easy for my first five-or-so hours. Then I entered Mamoonia, the only accessible area in the early access build beyond the main town of Badgetown, and the battles got far more difficult. In one battle, my poor team was slapped with literally a dozen Fluster debuffs, making all my cards earn me 0 points. I had no way to remove the debuffs with my party. Luckily, I still won anyway, because I was in the points lead by the time the battle forced us to end our nonstop debuff rodeo.
My time with Ooblets so far has shown me that this dance "combat" is deceptively simple, only showing its true cards (heh) once it starts to open up more. There is always a worthwhile prize awaiting at the end too: Winning a dance battle nets you the "seed" of whatever Ooblet you've faced. Some planting, light watering, and time passage later, and bam, you have a new little Ooblet to follow you around (or let stay at home). They level up too, attaining new abilities to deal in dance battles. The downside is that at the beginning, I collected a lot of duplicate Ooblets, not realizing there was a limit. I haven't found a way yet to get rid of my spare Lumpstumps yet so I can make way for worthwhile duplicates (yes, Ooblets has its own Shinies equivalent) and newbies.
What held me back from getting into Temtem, the early access Pokemon-like hit from earlier this year, was that I wasn't a fan of the monster designs. In Ooblets, that's remedied. The little egg-shaped critters are all adorable in their own way. Among my favorites are Bristlebud, a little cactus-looking Ooblet, and Clomper, a fuzzy little guy with twigs for antlers. While some Ooblets definitely look a little similar to one another—I have two mushroom-like Ooblets in my party, for instance—they're still individually pleasant in their own right.
Cuteness aside, so far my biggest disappointment has been in the friendship building system. The more you talk to the 16 residents, including helping them out with the occasional quest, the more your friendship meter with them grows. The only problem is that they don't have much that's interesting to say; they're mostly there just to make me laugh. I don't foresee getting attached to any of my neighbours as I did back in the early games of Harvest Moon. When I consider idyllic, small town rural life, getting to know my neighbors plays a big role in that, so the lack of compelling characters is so far the biggest drawback for me, even if they're all cutely designed and have silly names. (One person's name is "Taffy," for instance.)
Choose Your Loyalty
Upon moving to Badgetown at the start of Ooblets, you're ushered into picking a "club" to align yourself with. For example, the leader of the "Mimpins" Ooblets club, which defines itself as for clever, anti-social people, wears an astronaut helmet for no apparent reason—but it's probably just to add another barrier for when they talk to other people. Meanwhile, the other Ooblets "clubs," which also denote your starting Ooblet, are the "strong competitors" of Peaksnubs, the "sweet cuties who love cute things" of Frunbuns, and finally, the crew I chose to roll with: Mossprouts, the outdoorsy, adventure-seekers. I chose them because they had the cutest starting Ooblet (the tall mushroom Shrumbo), and the clubs denote your starting creature. Unfortunately, I learned, it's also the same Ooblets club that the town cop is in. Yikes.
Typical of any game in early access, there are a lot of elements gated in Ooblets. One shop is mysteriously empty, leaving me with the seed shop for plants, the clothes store, the furniture seller, the barber, and the local cafe. I'm also in the process of opening up a "dance barn." That's all in addition to the homes strewn about town. So far, most of the Harry Potter-like clubhouses for each Ooblets club also remain locked. I recently unlocked one of them, through a quest. (Quests in Ooblets amount to gathering resources, be it mushrooms that sprout from the ground, or recipes you cook up.) As mentioned before, there are also two Pokemon-like routes that are currently not in the early access build, but are teased when riding the hot air balloon to-and-from Badgetown to Mamoonia.
Despite that, I haven't "run out" of content yet, which surprises me. With early access games, I tend to burn through whatever content is available, and then forget about them until the eventual 1.0 patch. There is a lot here though, despite the sparseness in terms of environments. Ooblets, after all, remains very much in-development. I even accidentally broke out of bounds on Mamoonia once—but was luckily able to figure out a way back in by triggering a conversation with an NPC who was standing just close enough to a fence to force my character to run their way back within the fencing.
What matters most is Ooblets has really hooked me, like the Harvest Moon games once did; just like Animal Crossing: New Horizons has this year. The addition of a Pokemon-like critter collect-a-thon makes the familiar town-cultivating, gardening formula more exciting. I imagine as Ooblets rolls into release, it will only get more delightful. Turns out, time was very much on Ooblets's side, and it was worth the long wait. Ooblets is available in early access on PC via Epic Games Store and Xbox One today.