Soon after starting Ooblets, I realized how committed it was to its hyper-cute aesthetic. It wasn’t specifically visually, though obviously its pastel colors, rounded edges, and even the vignette that softly blurs the edges of the screen are part of the same devotion. Instead, it was the game’s voice — particularly where it switches out nouns. Coffee is beanjuice; there are no carrots or beatroots but caroots and sweetiebeeties; shells are seaplops and gastroglobs and curlyhorns.
At first I resisted it. It was the same way I felt when a friend might use the word “doggo” out loud: a faint secondhand embarrassment and distaste. Like a lot of people, I’d started looking down on that kind of language, though subconsciously. If you’d asked me out loud, I would have said there’s obviously nothing harmful about it. People should enjoy themselves! But coming across so strongly in Ooblets, at first it just felt corny.
More time with the game brought me to the conclusion that it absolutely is corny. That’s also why it’s so great.
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Ooblets begins with your character travelling to Badgetown, a small coastal village full of eclectic people and, of course, ooblets. Ooblets are helpful pets… or farm-helper creatures you can grow from seeds. They love to dance battle one another. Winning gets you more seeds to in turn expand your menagerie of cute pals.
But there’s a lot else going on in Badgetown, too. What’s currently available in the first early-access release is sort of an extended tutorial. Various quests unlock all the different activities across town. There’s a dance hall where you can test your ooblets in tournaments, a printing press that lets you collect stickers which codify your friendship with villagers, a trading post so you can profit from your farm, and so on. All are in need of repair. And that involves growing or foraging or trading for the items you need.
It’s up to you what you engage with and in what order. To me, the dance battles are actually the weakest of the lot. Ooblets have sets of moves that you can play out like a card game. Each costs a certain number of beats, and gain you points as you race your opponent to the winning total. There are some complicating mechanics, like hype, which raises the amount each card can gain. At least so far, though, it’s not really necessary to think too much about it.
More than once I accidentally skipped an entire turn in a battle. Though I still won — easily. In what I thought was a complex later match, my opponent sapped all their own points away with cards clearly meant to have a positive tradeoff. Only the AI couldn’t take advantage of the the sacrifice… This is something that could definitely improve as my ooblets get stronger, introducing more complex moves, or as the early access period progresses. At the moment? It’s not especially engaging.
I do love to stick my hands in the dirt, though. Spending what little cash (“gummies”) I have on seeds and taking the profit straight back to buy more is a great loop in any game. Ooblets parcels it out delightfully slowly, too. Crops take days to grow and, in an interesting twist over some similar titles, they don’t spring up overnight. Instead, if you plant them in the evening, they’ll be ready in the evening. This enforces a leisurely pace where a game like Stardew Valley can quickly feed my worst tendencies toward creating an industrial farming capitalist hellscape.
The waiting provides plenty of time to explore the town. It really lets you notice the little things that make up Ooblets’ saccharine sweet whole. For example, that your character’s idle animation is a sort of laidback backstep, dancing to some internal song. Then there’s how wild ooblets absolutely barrel towards you to see if you want to battle. Or the way the villagers move on their own schedules, going for coffee or a walk in the rain, making the town feel alive as you just do your own thing — foraging for mushrooms or gathering up shells.
The slowness of life in Badgetown makes me want to play one in-game day at a time. And that, too, works in its favor. Like a sickly sweet cake, Ooblets is fantastic in small doses. (This is particularly true as it navigates early access, as there are a few bugs that need ironing out which aren’t individually a problem but may become grating if you play for a while.)
Still, I’m glad Ooblets doesn’t dilute itself at all. The internet loves to call things “cringe.” Mostly, it’s cringe to care about things without some kind of qualifier about how you’re cool and unaffected, actually. But it takes courage to be as dedicated to a voice as Ooblets is, particularly when that voice is playful in a way typically classified as childish.
Many people have, and will, call Ooblets “wholesome.” The label has its merits, but as we continue to look for greater and greater variety in the tones of our games, we need more precise descriptors. I’d like to call Ooblets “earnest.” It sincerely presents its cutesy nature and asks that you take it as it is. It won’t be for everyone. Yet it invites players not to shut it out, as I was first tempted to, just because it’s joyful and silly.
Another good word is a piece of British slang: twee. Twee is difficult to describe if you haven’t grown up around it, but it’s a specific kind of cutesy. To describe something as twee is to admit it’s corny, but simultaneously express that that’s why you have a fondness for it. That’s absolutely Ooblets, and I’m grateful it reminded me of the concept.