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Thursday, March 23, 2023

Sick of 'Animal Crossing'? Try 'Ooblets'

In the sugar-sweet farming simulator Ooblets, regardless of how many sweetiebeeties you’ve grown or cupcakes you ate, at the end of every day, you hit a button that says “I DID GOOD.”

Released in early access for PC and Xbox on July 15, Ooblets is a frictionless game. It’s gentle. It doesn’t punish you for picking too few button mushrooms or dawdling to restore the town’s sticker supply. Ooblets’ world is a welcome one, where the player is free to farm, amass tiny ooblet creatures, accomplish silly quests, and drink beanjuice. It’s like a long, meandering hike where you’re free to pause and pick flowers. Ambitious or indifferent, the bouquet you end up with will always be pretty.

In Ooblets, your character (whom you can customize) leaves their life behind on a boat adventure. They land in Badgetown—a couple streets of pastel-colored shops and quirky nonplayable characters. The mayor, a bubblegummy overachiever named Tintsle, informs you that you’re free to fix up a shack, farm on its property, and gather some ooblets. The Pokémon-like creatures range in concept from “grumpy beetle” to “small yeti” and “long-legged mushroom.” They trail behind your character and fight too—in dance battles. When you win a dance battle, the ooblet you defeated farts out a seed, which you can plant on your farm to grow more of that same ooblet.

Ooblets’ dance battles are decidedly easy, at least in the first few hours I’ve played. If you’re a fan of deck-builder Slay the Spire, this won’t scratch that competitive itch. They’re simple get-to-20-points-first, card-based battles. Ooblets crowd around to watch and cheer as your pet or pet crew lay down moves over bass-backed jams. The battles’ relatively low challenge would be a massive bummer except, in a way, it fits the game’s chill attitude. You can put as much effort as you want into optimizing your dance-battle gameplay, or you can just view the battles as a means to get seeds.

Ooblets takes systems recognizable from Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley, and Pokémon but removes the tension and stress. Earn money (gummies), plant seeds, harvest crops. Lay down flooring, remove debris, upgrade your space. Eventually, ooblets can farm on your behalf while you complete fetch quests and chat with townsfolk or “sea-dangle” (fish) on the dock. All the while, you have a stamina meter that depletes as you do activities and refreshes when you eat cupcakes or other food.

Without Animal Crossing’s debt-obsessed raccoon, Tom Nook, Ooblets doesn’t inspire the not-good-enough feeling common in this genre. It’s relaxing, but not from any feeling of accomplishment that comes from gazing upon your digital kingdom; it comes instead mostly from ferrying around kawaii plants and enjoying the witty one-liners from NPCs.

Because the game is in early access without a full release date, it doesn’t feel quite whole yet. While the writing is top-notch, often making me laugh out loud, Ooblets could use a little more things to do between its main activities. It’s not a big deal, though, if you’re just looking to spend a little time in a candy-colored world full of cute creatures with weird names (Derble? Fripp?).

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