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‘Ooblets’ is an addictive combo of ‘Pokémon’ and ‘Stardew Valley,’ but it needs more work

(Washington Post illustration; Glumberland)
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Upon booting up “Ooblets,” I was immediately taken by its cheery and adorable presentation. Everything is bright and colorful, and all its characters are warm and friendly. The virtual world is a safe, happy bubble, a respite from our grim, pandemic-stricken realities. As someone who played “The Last of Us Part II,” which delves into heavy themes of loss and revenge, for the last month, “Ooblets” is a welcome change of pace. As much as I loved its joyful vibe, though, it soon became clear that it needs more time in development before becoming something great.

“Ooblets” is an early access game, after all, meaning you play before full release as its creators tinker and iron out kinks. Available on PC (exclusively through the Epic Games store) and on Xbox One via Xbox Game Preview, “Ooblets” puts you in the shoes of an amateur farmer. It takes ideas from both “Pokémon” and “Stardew Valley,” but instead of completely replicating those concepts, it blends them together to form something fresh.

Your main goal in “Ooblets” is to catch, well, Ooblets. These are tiny, cute monsters that roam the world in small herds. After choosing which Ooblets Club to join, such as the socially awkward Mimpins or the cocky Peaksnubs who say they’re a group for “born leaders,” you’re given a starter monster, just like you would in “Pokémon.” From there, you fight other Ooblets in frenzied dance battles, and if you win encounters, you gain the seed of your opponent. With that seed, you plant it in your garden, let it grow for an allotted time and later harvest it to receive a new Ooblet.

Combat plays out similar to the card battler “Slay the Spire.” In these turn-based fights, your cards are your Ooblets’ moves and you win by reaching a certain point total before your foe. Some cards let you stun opponents, accrue points or power up to make your maneuvers more effective. Like the rest of this game’s world, these battles are dripping with charm: Catchy music plays overhead while your Ooblets dance, sometimes even twerk, their way to victory. It’s a joy to watch, but combat in practice is lackluster. The enemy’s moves are too randomized to make sense, and matches are too simple, requiring little strategy. Some fine-tuning and balancing is necessary for this portion of the game to sing.

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Outside of fights, you can spend your time doing home improvement, transforming your decrepit shack into an eye-catching home. Everything is costly, either requiring resources or Gummies, which are the game’s main form of currency. Like “Animal Crossing: New Horizons,” “Ooblets” is dependent on its in-game capitalism: You perform labor (quests, battles, scrounging for resources) so you can reap rewards in buying furniture, clothes, sprinklers for your garden and so on. It’s an addictive gameplay loop, but I was left starving for more.

The biggest problem with “Ooblets” is there just isn’t enough to do. Even as the world opened up to other towns, these new areas offered little other than some more enemies to fight in the exact same fashion. Repetition is everywhere in “Ooblets” — most of the quest lines require battling or collecting resources — which grows stale after a while. Side activities such as fishing aren’t fun either, requiring you to just wait after pressing a button to see what you reel in.

To make matters worse, I encountered a long list of bugs: Areas wouldn’t load properly, my character got stuck in objects in the world, and at one point I couldn’t read a quest description because it just said, “quest description.” A key component is missing from “Ooblets” to really make it all come together; for example, everything you do feels like a side quest, with little to no overarching story about why you moved here or your ultimate goal.

Yet I kept playing, because it’s hard to turn away from the inviting and weird world of “Ooblets.” I enjoyed the dialogue of the townsfolk, ranging from hilarious to strikingly real chatter, such as a young woman speaking about being unemployed and living with her parents despite graduating from college and a man saying that wearing a turtleneck is “the closest he’s come to dying.” All the Ooblets have cute, dorky names such as Dumbirb and Unnyhunny. Even fishing is called “sea dangling.”

“Ooblets” introduces something special through that world, and if the developers take the time necessary to iron out the rest and perhaps introduce new gameplay to the mix, there could be something special here. The seeds of potential are there, and time will tell whether “Ooblets” blossoms into something better.

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