If Ooblets does anything, it makes a striking first impression. After spending five hours being followed around by quirky creatures, growing plants, and getting to know my neighbors, I’m excited to spend more time in the world of Oob. However, I said Ooblets makes a striking first impression, not a flawless one.
The presentation of the world of Oob requires a degree of buying into its deeply twee lingo and aesthetics. It has heavy Adventure Time vibes by way of Seuss as delivered through Tumblr circa 2011-2015. You don’t water crops with a watering can, but a “dribbly can.” You grow “zinookas” and “springbeans” and your neighbors greet you with a “Dailyo!” instead of “hello.”
It’s a presentation which, at first blush, made me take half a step back and think, “Oh. Oh, we’re doing all this. Alright, let’s go.” And go Ooblets does. What makes this mode work for me is partly how charming the titular Ooblets are. Just as some Pokémon were designed around a footprint or a sound, the world of Oob feels crafted to match the adorable creatures the player collects, pets, and sets on other Ooblets for quick, but engaging dance battles.
However, there’s an underlying tension within the mode in which Ooblets operates. While you deliver “nurnies” to help fix a goth-adjacent woman’s “printypress” you pass by a police officer. What can you get arrested for in Badgetown? You pay for coffee with “gummies,” (no, not the kind Donald Duck uses to travel through space with Sora), but the barista serving your drink complains about hating her job. The locals joke-vent about those with kitchen islands and those without while cute sentient mushrooms dance around your feet.
The world of Ooblets is not actively working to juxtapose saccharine cuteness with reminders of real-world capitalist woes for the sake of presenting an argument. All of this is done for the sake of humor. However, these tweet-size punchlines about kitchen islands and working for the weekend feel less like goofs in a silly world of fun and more like little speed bumps on a candy-coated road. It’s also worth noting there is almost no body diversity in Ooblets. The only slightly chubbier character is the police officer, which conveys a disappointing message about what bodies are allowed to exist in a hyper-cutesy world.
Nevertheless, the Ooblets themselves are far and away the most engaging element of the game. Like any good monster collector, I need to see every species of Ooblet and build a dream team of dance champions. While I haven’t unlocked any accessories for my groovy friends yet, seeing a mushroom in a witch hat or birdy in funny glasses has me excited for the relationships I can build with my Ooblets over time. The inclusion of collectible figurines to display in the town hall also scratches an itch I’ve had since Wind Waker, though in Ooblets, you run each creature through a scanner rather than snap a picture. I look forward to admiring the complete collection once I’ve dance battled my way to the top of the proverbial food chain. (To my knowledge, Ooblets do not eat each other.)
Speaking of dance battles, they’re a hoot. When I was first presented with a hand of cards featuring various abilities, I was worried Ooblets contained a secret deck building game, but the mechanics are far simpler. Each turn, you get a random hand of abilities based on dance moves—some of which are exclusive to certain Ooblets based on species—and rather than reduce your opponents HP to zero, you have to reach a certain point threshold first.
There’s a degree of strategy at play in terms of playing cards that increase the point value gained by other moves, but this is not a game that demands chess-like tactics to succeed. It’s satisfying to execute a combo that nets a lot of points in a single turn, but so far most cards are generous in terms of point value. I had one dance off where the opposing Clickyclaws came close to stealing the spotlight, but I never felt like defeat was hovering over my character’s pink haired head. I appreciate the lack of pressure in these dance battles, as it fits the relaxed vibe of the game overall and isn’t a surprisingly tough element in an otherwise chill experience. Yes, Skull Cavern from Stardew Valley, I’m talking to you.
Overall, I’ve enjoyed the opening hours of Ooblets and as I unlock more features around town, I see the game becoming even more engaging as I progress. I would say the relaxed nature of Ooblets makes it a great game for putting on a podcast, but that would do a disservice to the excellent music by composer Pedro Silva. Even if I sometimes furrow my brow at the mixed signals Ooblets is sending in terms of tone, no amount of forehead scrunching can keep me from bopping my head along to the beat.