When a small number of titles dominate an entire genre, it can cause the entire genre to stagnate, drowning out competition and preventing innovation. It takes a dedicated, imaginative, and brave team to stand up against the giants of a genre, to build bridges, banish tropes and bring change. Such is the case with Ooblets, a casual RPG which seems to be made up of equal parts Harvest Moon and Pokemon with a generous sprinkle of Animal Crossing. The first title of the tiny gaming studio, GlumberLand, this delightfully irreverent and self-aware game has been getting a lot of attention lately thanks to its easy yet addicting gameplay and unique look.
While I’ve been following the development of this game for some time, I got my first hands-on experience at Xbox’s E3 booth, where people lined up for their chance to play, some taking as long as forty-five minutes to explore this massive demo. The game begins when you arrive in your new home of Badgetown and set to work starting your farm. You step off a commuter train, something Animal Crossing players will be very familiar with, are greeted and told to find your farm, then left largely to your own devices. Without a tutorial restricting your experience, you’re free to wander the town, meet people, join an Ooblets club, (groups similar to Houses in Harry Potter) receive your first Ooblet, and start farming. Set on the world of Oob, Ooblets are monsters, often plant-like, which can do battle and wear lots of really snazzy accessories.
The farming is simple and fast paced: till the soil, water the seed, go battle wild Ooblets while you wait. Crops grow quickly, and by feeding them to your Ooblets, they can learn new moves, grow, and become more powerful. Wild Ooblets drop seed with surprising frequency, and planting these seeds allows you to grow a new Ooblet of that same type to join your team. Ooblets has a decent cast of monsters, but this number is expected to grow. With names like goopylonglegs, chickadingding, and pantsabear, you’ll want to collect them all just to find out what they’re called.
Battles are quick and easy to navigate. Monsters roam the map, so there are no surprise random encounters. Once in a fight, Ooblets line up and duke it out with specialized battle moves such as Snoot Boop. Battles take place in the environment itself, not a separate screen, so the transition in and out of fighting is both swift and smooth, and unfold with the familiar turn based mechanics you’d expect of something so clearly inspired by Pokemon.
What really strikes me about the game is how positive the language is, and how silly and self aware it is. There’s nothing pretentious about Ooblets; it knows exactly what kind of game it is, and it celebrates that fact. Acquiring items produces a splash page with text proclaiming, “Look at this junk!” and “Gimme!” Upon leveling up, the game announces “Woo I’m so proud of you!” The sign pointing to your new farm proclaims your new home “Farm-farm.” The little Ooblets which join your team and follow you around the world map? Those are known as Followbabies.
Conversing with the people in town had to be my favorite part of the demo, where the thoughts of the developers truly seem to shine through. “Keep Badgetown weird,” one passer by told me. “Will you help me make an app? I have a killer app idea,” a woman questioned over and over again. “Have you noticed all the names and places around here are goofy and low-effort random combinations of letters, like “Duluth”?” a Badgetown cynic asked. My favorite interaction had to be the one below:
Ooblets could very well be the farming/monster battling game we’ve been waiting for. By introducing some interesting new mechanics, like growing your own monsters, it brings a unique and very self-aware twist to a tried and true genre. Its graphic style certainly stands out from the competition, and the casual gameplay makes it easy to pick up and, judging by just how long those at the Xbox booth played it, just as easy to get lost in. Ooblets will be coming to PC and Xbox in 2018. In the meantime, you can learn more about Ooblets at their Steam page, or follow along with their .gif-heavy development blog at the official Ooblets website.