Meet the Charming Indie 'Pokémon', 'Moblets'

Meet the Charming Indie 'Pokémon', 'Moblets'

Indie game 'Moblets', by Rebecca Cordingley channels Nintendo's 'Pokémon' and 'Harvest Moon'

Rebecca Cordingley's love letter to Nintendo is part of a wave of independent games that blend colorful looks with old-school appeal

Rebecca Cordingley's love letter to Nintendo is part of a wave of independent games that blend colorful looks with old-school appeal

Adorable indie games are nothing new. Titles like Tiger and Squid's 2015 watercolors adventure Beyond Eyes, Southend Interactive's button-eyed puzzler Ilomilo and the forthcoming Zelda-like Secret Legend – which replaces the usual armored adventurer with a tiny, bushy-tailed fox – are just a taste of the projects that point to a growing wave of digital plushies from small developers that you could spend days wading through on Steam, Xbox One and PSN. Moblets, due in 2018 from Rebecca Cordingley, is yet more proof that charm is trending.

Unofficially crowned game of the show by a host of attendees during its debut at October's Day Of The Devs – a mini E3 for Indies in San Francisco – even the curators from indie publisher and developer Double Fine were singing its praises. As Cordingley prepped, almost single-handedly, for the show, she admits her nerves got the better of her.

"I was completely convinced that everyone would hate Moblets, that everyone would say that it was crap," she says.

It’s not, of course. It's got monster collecting, farming, and toylike visuals that wouldn't look out of place in a children's book. What makes it stand out from all the other weird and wonderful indies out there? Killer mechanics, gleaned from some of the most fondly-remembered and successful Nintendo games ever – like Pokémon and the classic RPG Harvest Moon – wrapped in a world that charms without feeling gimmicky.

As the line to play grew longer, people drawn in by the storybook look got hooked on the simple, satisfying mechanics. I know, I was in that queue, standing on tiptoes to peep over the shoulder of the person ahead of me. Cordingley says one child had to be physically dragged away by his father after playing so long he ended up in the secret developer menu.

It's an open world game – that world is soft and pastel-colored – and the minute you start playing, the urge to explore kicks in, and to greedily gobble up every little beautiful plant and barn as you gather your Moblets to your farm. Shrumbo, the adorable pot-bellied toadstool, was a particular favorite. You have the option to dress your diminutive companions in accessories like hats and glasses, and Shrumbo looks just amazing in a bonnet. You win over new Moblets by offering them a friendfruit, which sounds just like what the world needs right now.

Despite its early polish, Moblets is the result of just four months work. When finished, you'll be able to pit Moblets against each other – think more Pokémon than dog fighting – and you'll also be able to do things like run your own seed shop or join a Moblet Club (sort of like the houses in Harry Potter). I'm probably going to join the "shy and awkward" Mimpin club.

If four months sounds like a really short development cycle, you’re absolutely right. It would be short for a studio with 20 people and a bunch of resources, and right now, Moblets is the work of just Cordingley and, in the evenings, her husband Ben Wasser. But Cordingley's not completely green, having worked as an artist at mobile game developer, Schell Games.

"I guess I do work pretty fast but I think because I've been making games for a really long time. I've learned a lot of shortcuts and I tend to stick to the same style, so I've gotten better," she says.

Cordingley says visuals are her priority, and when it comes to getting stuff ready to show, she's particularly obsessive about colors. The result is that Moblets has a distinctly warm and personable aesthetic. It feels authentic, rather than a cynical grasp for your nostalgia glands.

"When you have one person who has complete control over their own vision of how the game should be, you often get that person's essence, I guess, more obvious and visible in the game," she says.

"I think some of that is because game development is just becoming so much more accessible to people from different professional and cultural backgrounds. The teams that work on indie games are getting smaller and smaller, and it’s not that unusual now to see games that are made by one or two [people]."

She also cites older games and recent animated shows as touchstones for her style.

"The games I spent my pocket money on in my teens seemed to share a similar aesthetic. I was really into Jet Set Radio, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and Viewtiful Joe. These days as an adult, both me and Ben watch a lot of stuff like Adventure Time and Bee & Puppycat and I think that is a big influence too, both on me for the art and on Ben for the writing and lore and stuff."

Not surprisingly, both Wasser and Cordingley are fans of Harvest Moon and Pokémon. It was the idea of mashing the two games together was what initially inspired Moblets.

"An important part of the game for us is that people just feel really good when they play it, like sorta warm and fuzzy," she says. "I think feeling like you’re building something has an almost chemical effect on people's brains. Farming specifically adds in an aspect of a simpler, more serene life that’s kind of pleasant in relation to the real world."

Despite the Day of the Devs adulation, there are no plans to accelerate the development process; there won't be a finished version of Moblets until 2018, Cordingley says.

"There's a lot of work to do. There's no specific plan, just keep going as fast as I can and hopefully one day it'll be finished."