Ooblets Early Access Review: The Greatest Non-Violent Game of the Generation
Where do I begin with Ooblets? How about here: it's amazing. Its colorful world imbued with saccharine creatures quickly reveals a sarcastic, slightly subversive sense of humor.
The daily to-do list is better organized than just about any of those seen in genre peers, teasing players to play forever on a day/night cycle that isn't dependent on the real-world calendar.
Townsfolk are interesting, and the turn-based battle system is approachable yet revolutionary. This is an early access review, so don't expect a score at the bottom, but understand this: Ooblets is nonetheless a Game of the Year contender.
Ooblets Early Access Review: The Greatest Non-Violent Game of the Generation
In Ooblets, the everpresent trope of a boat ride into a dazzling new town gets players into Badgetown, a rather bustling village in the land of Oob. While you'll soon get to explore neighboring areas, Badgetown is where your custom character plants their flag.
Unlike the year's other big farm sim, Animal Crossing New Horizons, the land you settle on is not up to you. Instead, you are gifted a fixer-upper farmhouse and asked by the mayor (Mayor Tinstle, a rainbowish girl with a welcoming demeanor and a reward system of badges for you to chase) to introduce yourself to everyone.
Badgetown seems to have about 20 or so permanent residents, and they each have set personalities, allowing you to get to know each of them. A friendship system even incentivizes chatting with them and giving them gifts regularly.
For the first few days of your new life, you'll work to revitalize the neighborhood. This means learning how to craft, cook, garden, and shop. You'll also need to repair places around town like the dance barn, the hot air balloon, and a mission board that constantly offers fetch quests for big payouts in the town's currency, gummies.
For veterans of the genre, this likely all sounds very familiar, and pleasantly, it is. It helps you hit the ground running. But, as I said, Ooblets is a Game of the Year contender, and for that, the small team at Glumberland would need to raise the bar somehow.
How they do that, in my view, is threefold.
First, the titular creatures themselves bring a major second point of emphasis alongside Ooblets' typical farm life mechanics. By collecting these adorable creatures, which alternatively appear like sentient plants or robots (but are always grown out of the ground like the former), Ooblets brings an element of Pokemon to the genre in a way nothing before it has.
A turn-based battle system allows players to collect more of them as they progress, and in turn, unlock new moves to use in battle. This is no small wrinkle for Ooblets. The battles are one of the game's best elements, and though they're currently without any difficulty settings, they haven't been difficult to handle thanks to a familiar, somewhat simplified system of action points and damage.
The battles also reveal another of Ooblets' strongest features: its universal commitment to non-violence. While many wholesome games smuggle in the casual violence of fishing, crafting with animal parts, or direct creature battles (sorry, but Pokemon is dog-fighting, folks), in Ooblets, every single aspect has been reimagined in a pacifistic context.
How? They're dance battles, which the Ooblets, according to the game's lore, take part in enthusiastically. The "fishing" you do involves no hooks through the faces of animals. Instead, you "sea-dangle" for non-sentient objects, like crafting supplies or food. Even the food itself is entirely vegan. You won't have to worry about the moral implications of eating some Ooblets and caring for others.
While the creatures themselves are sentient plants, there are unconscious crops with which to make food, each of them with names as silly as anything from Adventure Time, such as a carrot hot dog called a hop dob or sugar called froobtose.
Ooblets invents its own silly language, and while it's adorable on its own, it's made much more charming to see how it's used by Glumberland to carefully avoid any instance of harm to the game's conscious creatures. As an animal rights activist, Ooblets fills my heart with intense glee.
Even if you're unphased by this avoidance of the genre's casual violence, Ooblets is, quite simply, one of the best-made games in the genre regardless. With a tantalizing XP system, virtually all actions big and small, from chatting with neighbors to completing quests to even something as common as picking or planting crops, earns you XP.
As you level up, you can spend Wishies to improve your character by giving them more energy in the day, or expanding their farmhouse, or even introducing new types of Ooblets to town, among a growing list of other features.
Farming is much more engaging and speedier than many games like it too. With the hold of a button, you transfer into gardening mode, and your crop space becomes a grid for you to work on. This system seamlessly allows you to clean up the backyard, plant, and harvest in no time, all the while making it so it feels decisively yours. Everything goes just the way you want it, and the UI helps you know exactly what your plants need, be it time or water or the clearing of some encroaching weeds.
While initial customization options are purposely sparse, you'll soon unlock a wealth of options for your hair, clothes, and farmhouse, meaning the sim-like aspect of living the life you want is present as well. I haven't grappled with those elements too much yet in my 10 or so hours, but a look at the stores tells me they run quite deep. I'm eager to turn my brown shack into a party pad for dancing Ooblets in due time.
As this is early access, I expected bugs — the game even reminds you of this when you load it up — and yet, I didn't find anything too problematic. The worst case I saw was when one of my crops disappeared. That happened once. Other than that, the UI does trip on itself at times, with descriptions of items overwriting some other icons in a way that feels unpolished.
The quick-access inventory is a key feature, but it needs to be brushed up a bit too, as moving things into it can get clunky in the full inventory menu thanks to that aforementioned issue with your item descriptions. I've seen somewhat regular clipping too, usually when you enter a store or a home. My wife witnessed one character running on the walls of their home, but I only heard this one secondhand.
Ooblets Early Access Review — The Bottom Line (So Far)
- Unprecedented respect for its creatures
- Engaging XP system keeps you chasing great rewards and upgrades
- Adorable, funny world full of color
- Smart gardening system keeps those mechanics fun, never dull
- Ample secrets to discover, friends to make
- Dance battles bring rewarding turn-based combat without the casual violence
- Unclear today what the endgame may look like
- Bugs are along for the ride in early access, as expected
In addition to bugs, I'm wondering what the pull may look like after many more hours. Some farm life games have a clear endpoint, while others go on forever. With so much scripted content, Ooblets seems to fall in the first category, so I wonder how long its tail will be at launch, but the journey so far has been awesome. I wouldn't mind a finite amount of story and exploring to do, so long as the rest is as fun as it has been so far.
After four years of clearly hard work, Ooblets feels like it's hardly an "early access" game at all. I've seen plenty of games launch in worse states than this pre-release title has done today, and that makes for an exciting starting place. When Ooblets exits early access, I'll offer my final verdict including a score and some renewed thoughts as needed, but for today, even as it's not officially out, it's absolutely my new frontrunner for Game of the Year.
We'll see how the year shakes out, but one distinction I'm quite comfortable awarding it even today is perhaps a more important one; for so many reasons, Ooblets is the greatest non-violent game of the generation.
[Note: An early access copy of Ooblets was provided by Glumberland for the purpose of this early access review.]