I am going to be upfront with you here. I have absolutely no idea what is going on in Ooblets. On the face of it it seems pretty straightforward: you move to a new town, get gifted a run down farm and then left to your own devices. It’s nothing you haven’t really seen before, the Harvest Moon series has had you doing this cycle of planting crops to make cash and making friends for quite a number of years, but Ooblets has a twist (and a shake and a wiggle). That twist? Ooblets, and they like to dance.
I think there needs to be more dancing in games. Dancing is fun, dancing is joyous, and Ooblets is filled with joy. Genuine, sincere joy and I love it, even though I haven’t a clue what I am doing.
You arrive in Badgetown on a boat, having left your dull and Ooblet-less life behind. Everyone in Badgetown has at least one Ooblet with them, cute little critters that follow you around and help you with stuff. You obtain your first one by chatting to various inhabitants and choosing which fan club you want to join. I chose the outdoorsy club because my first Ooblet was a little Aminita style red cap mushroom called Shrumbo, and really he was too cute to pass up. I’m not sure it really matters all that much though because you can collect all the different types any way, and you achieve this through the power of dance.
The general flow of Ooblets follows a familiar path, you wake up, clear overgrown ground at your farm, plant any seeds you have, water them and then potter off into town to explore and build relationships. There’s a shop where you can buy seeds and an upgraded watering can, a furniture shop where you can purchase things for your house including options to upgrade to a bigger one. Inside the furniture shop there is also a machine where you can craft customisable options for your farm, things like pathways and machinery designed to transform your raw materials into something more useful, that in turn you can use in food and other recipes. Next to the furniture store is a clothing store where you can buy items to further customise your character as well as a hairdresser where you can mix up your look. There’s also a coffee shop selling “bean juice”, where a group of disaffected, cynical townspeople like to congregate.
Dotted in and around town are pockets of Ooblets that are not tethered to one individual. Walk up to them and they enthusiastically gather around you inviting you to challenge them to a dance battle. Some have specific requirements in order for you to do that, things like a certain number of ooblet followers, or a particular crop item. Provided you meet their criteria you can challenge them.
The dance battles themselves aren’t particularly taxing. They take the form of a turn-based card game where you have a number of points to spend per turn across a variety of moves that have different costs and rewards. Your aim is to reach a set amount of points achieved through your dance moves. Cards have different powers and debuffs: for example you can lay a card down that will increase the power of your dance moves, meaning that the next card you lay will give you seven points rather than the six the base version has. As you progress and collect more ooblets the battles do become more strategic with enemies able to freeze one of your team for a number of moves, or the ability to steal points. Winning a battle will net you a seed from one of the enemy team that you can use to grow your own one.
Once you are done collecting different ooblets for the day, there are other tasks to be done. Things like doing up the dance barn, or re-opening the various clubhouses. Each task requires you to collect a certain amount of items and dump them in a drop-off box outside the location. My current task is to get the “oobnet” up and running again. What is the oobnet? It is a connected system where people used to go online and share conspiracy stories or something, but it will help one of the locals with her scientific studies into ooblets.
The styling is lovely with a cutesy aesthetic that I absolutely adore. Everything has a saccharine sweetness to it that is absolutely intentional and aimed at a very specific market, but is very self-aware. The vocabulary of Badgetown is very much aimed those folks that refer to birds as “birbs” and call dogs “doggos”, but despite this, I love it because it feels so tongue-in-cheek and good-natured.
It’s important to note that Ooblets is very much in early access, and there are some minor issues. Entering into the farming mode stutters, and there are moments where the game freezes when entering and exiting shops. In the furniture store my character clips through the counter when she speaks with the proprietor, and there are some issues with lining up your character to be able to interact with objects that need ironing out, but these are all minor inconveniences. It is also unfinished, with some areas locked off and place-holder items once you progress the story forward past a certain point. However, what is here is very promising. I really like the blend of farming and relationship simulator, along with the collectible nature of ooblets and filling out my almanac with different items, recipes and critters. There’s plenty of customisable goals to work towards as well as other areas to open up and explore. Plus it has a Mayor who just square dances the whole day away in the centre of the town and I can’t think of anything better to be honest.