The name might sound like a biscuit/sneeze hybrid but Ooblets is far more fun than an afternoon beverage gone wrong: it’s one of 2018’s most highly anticipated releases for those of us who enjoy making small creatures fight for our amusement (and profit). The tagline promises a game about farming, creatures and adventure, and if that speaks to you as the very best of Harvest Moon, Pokémon and Animal Crossing — that’s kind of the point.
Developed by a core team of just two people, it’s the first venture by developers Rebecca Cordingley and Ben Wasser and it’s already making waves. Ooblets is being published by Double Fine Presents and was showcased at last year's E3 to a resounding 'awwwww' from the audience. Amid a show largely filled with the doom and destruction of post-apocalyptic worlds like Metro: Exodus and Metroid, the simple premise of growing your own companions and taking them on a brave little adventure certainly wormed its way into my hardened heart.
Creepy, with a capital Cute
Taking a look at the game’s visuals immediately brings to mind the weird, wacky atmosphere of the Katamari series, though Ooblets has its own distinct take on a brighter world. The pastel colour scheme and slightly hazy rendering in particular lend the game a wonderful fairytale aesthetic.
“Rebecca takes a lot of inspiration from the Zelda franchise,” says designer and writer Ben Wasser, “but our overall goal is to not feel too constrained and instead let our weird selves shine through.” Case in point, with the main aim of the game being to raise the titular creatures through careful gardening and nurturing, you would think that the ooblets themselves are plant-based in nature. Then you meet a bear in pants who’s more strict gym instructor than grass-type Pokémon, and you're wondering where you are again.
“From a game design perspective, we try to learn from just about every game we play, even if they don’t seem related to Ooblets,” says Wasser. That's reassuring for those worried that the game is simply looking to mash together the core mechanics from its inspirations, something that many cutesy life simulation games suffer from. “We’ll also often take a specific feature and research how other games approach it, like for our shopkeeping minigame, we went through Recettear and The Sims 2 and 4 for guidance.”
Developing multiple tiers of play
Part of the Ooblets development process is combining this desire for freshness with realism about a small team's limits. Prioritising the game's main elements — farming, adventuring, socialising and designing a personal space should all be in the final game — is left up to the players and their personal interests. The hope is that players will set their own goals. Will they?
“We’re still working that out,” admits Wasser. “Our overall goal is to have a lot of different types of progression that players can approach at their own pace. Maybe you want to build up a massive farm or collect every type of ooblet or decorate and furnish your house, run a successful shop, collect all the collectables, or just explore.” And if you want to do it all, welcome to a world of completionist angst.
Collect ‘em all
Aside from the unique art direction and the aura of weird-but-cute that permeates what we’ve seen of the world of Oob so far, what’s most exciting about the game is the variety and humour in the designs of the ooblets themselves.
From fan-favourite Clickyclaws (who’s every angry pet you’ve ever had, or as Wasser says “just has resting-Clickyclaws face”) to the aptly named Radlad, each critter strikes the balance between adorable sidekick and slightly awkward friend - while managing to remain distinct from the bestiaries of Pokémon or Rune Factory. And it’s a growing menagerie: new ooblets keep on being added throughout development, expanding far beyond the small selection shown off thus far.
The ooblets tie into the game’s biome system, whereby distinct areas of the map house their own plants, characters and unique ooblets to find and fight. How exactly this will work is “one part of development that’s in the most flux” — but the game already has a woodsy area, desert and spooky region, with an icy biome, underwater area and alien landscapes yet to be seen.
Ooblets is coming to PC and Xbox One and, while it’s not the typical Xbox game the team are keen to bring a little diversity to the platform’s lineup. Despite the added complexity with working to develop cross-platform, Wasser isn’t worried: “the folks at Xbox have been really friendly and helpful. Things like making the UI work for controllers and KBM, getting achievements hooked up to multiple APIs, and optimizing for different circumstances are all added complexities, but they’re not overwhelming.”
That seems to be the Ooblets attitude all over. You can tell this is a real labour of love, and one shared between the two developers. If all goes to plan, we’ll be immersed in the cuteness overload of Oob later this year.