Grab your nurnies and your drizzle dribbler, describing this game makes me sound like I’m having a stroke
I find myself drawn to a lot of games in the vein of Story of Seasons or Stardew Valley; they have a gameplay loop that just tends to suck me in. So hearing the idea that somebody was going to try and mix both with the concept of collectible monsters like Pokemon, it was hard for me not to be intrigued by the proposal. Enter Ooblets, a quirky farming and animal collection game hitting version 1.0 after entering early access in 2020. The world of Ooblets is incredibly colorful, with witty character writing (outside of Taffy) making it even more of a delightful place to hang around. That writing and delightful art only goes so far, however, as I sadly found the sheen to rub off as time went on.
In Ooblets, you play as a newly arrived immigrant to Oob, a land where everybody coexists with cute creatures called ooblets. You specifically end up in a place called Badgetown where you are immediately recruited as the new assistant to the town’s mayor, Tinstle. You’re given a farmhouse and a list of tasks to complete, the most important of which being traveling around Oob in order to activate towers and reconnect everybody to the Oobnet. As you make progress on this quest, you can also farm various crops in a manner very similar to something like Stardew Valley, or talk to the other residents to build up friendships with them and earn “friend stickers.” You can also recruit your own ooblets, and this is done through dance battles. If you find a group of ooblets in town or in the wild they will happily walk up to you, and if you have the items they are requesting you can initiate this battle. Dance battles are done in the form of a card game where the goal is to reach a certain number of points before your opponent. If you defeat the wild ooblets, you can choose to get a seed from them, which can be planted to eventually grow your very own ooblet of that type. The card game itself unfortunately feels rather shallow: you can build hype to up the amount of points your cards give you, and playing cards costs “beats” that you only have a certain amount of per turn. I never really found that any real strategizing was required, though, with the best strategy seemingly always being “play the cards that earn the most points” and not much beyond that.
Sadly, the more I played of Ooblets the more I began to feel like the game had no respect for my time. Little annoyances began to pile up and the charm of the game’s writing and characters began to wear off at lightning speed. Things like traveling in the hot air balloon or returning an ooblet to the wild area included unskippable cutscenes that felt longer and longer as time went on. Upping my friendships with my fellow Badgetown citizens started to feel far less rewarding when I realized I wasn’t actually experiencing stories for each one, just getting a funny quip and a sticker and then repeating the process the next day. Activities when I arrived in new areas began to feel like obvious padding, such as one area that required me to get the high score on several arcade games or pay an obscene amount of money before I was allowed to progress. This all came to a head when I reached a late game area that required me to make long hikes up and down a mountain several times in order to complete a series of fetch quests, and I realized I just was not having any fun; this is around where my time with Ooblets ended.
One particularly souring moment during my time with Ooblets came about five or so hours into my playthrough. After earning my first friendship sticker with a character, they gave me some items as a gift; however, my inventory was full at the time. In most cases a game like this would usually either have the character hold on to those items until you’ve made room, or would automatically send it to some kind of storage. Storage options are very limited early on in Ooblets, so that second option wasn’t really viable. Instead the game’s solution was to create two temporary inventory slots for these items. When I picked up one of them to see what it did, the inventory slot it was previously in disappeared, and I was stuck holding the item. The only options I had at that point were to either swap the item or cancel, but if I tried to cancel the game would tell me I couldn’t because I had no room in my inventory, instructing me to condense my items first. But I couldn’t condense my items; they already were condensed; everything that could stack was stacked. If I tried to go to a different menu, it would tell me to drop the item first. The usual solution would be to just drop the item on the ground, but this also did not appear to be an option I was given. At this point I had actually softlocked myself into this menu and had no choice but to close and restart the game. This was by far the most frustrating part of my experience.
I desperately wanted to like Ooblets. On the surface, it feels like a game that should be right up my alley. Unfortunately, the things that felt therapeutic and rewarding in games like Stardew Valley or Story of Seasons just felt like chores during my time in Badgetown. Despite having the usual farming game loop that was able to suck me in easily, I felt less and less like I was having any fun as time went on. While there is funny writing and cute little collectable creatures to be found in Ooblets, it just wasn’t enough to leave me with a satisfied feeling by the end of my time with it. It’s a shame because there’s obviously a lot of heart put into this game, but heart alone cannot sustain a game like this for an extended period of time.