- Developer: Spry Fox
- Publisher: The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild
- Release date: 07/04/2021
- Price: £11.49 / $14.99
- Review code provided by The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild
Introducing: Cozy Grove Review
I’ve been playing life simulation games since I was a little kid. While my mom made sure that the first video games I ever played were educational, the first game that I played after that was her copy of Sim City 3000. Which was then followed up by PlayStation titles that took me in the direction that my gaming goes today. Either way, simulation games and particularly life simulations are in my roots. In the last few years I’ve been consumed by titles like the Story of Seasons series, Animal Crossing, and Stardew Valley. I’m always looking for these sorts of games that help me unwind, though. So I was happy as can be when the chance to review Cozy Grove dropped in my lap.
Cozy Grove is an island that is quite haunted. Filled with lingering spirits who were unable to move on after their deaths. You play as a spirit scout who’s duty it is to help them solve their problems and be able to move on. All this in service of getting yourself some merit badges and maybe even making a few friends. However, it turns out that Cozy Grove is far more spirit infested than you thought it would be and… Oops! You’re boat’s drifted away while you were busy catching up with the spirits! Once you get your mailbox up and running, a letter from your scoutmaster makes it clear that this is an assignment that’s above your level and you were meant to go somewhere easier on your first solo outing. Well, there’s nothing to be done about it now, might as well make the best of things.
What’s best about Cozy Grove is the way that it slowly rolls out characters and their stories to you over the days that you play. This is not a game that’s meant to be beaten in just a few days. It’s one that you take your time with. Each character on the island will only have one request a day so it’s doled out slowly. I can’t comment on all the characters since the leisurely pace of the game means that I haven’t met them all yet (the game tells me that there are at least 10 more I have yet to meet) but the ones that I have met so far are delightful. From a friendly park ranger who just wants to help a vulnerable camper like you, to a salty sea captain and a handicrafter who doesn’t know why they can’t move on. Oh, and I’ve neglected to mention that they’re all BEARS! Or at least partially bears anyway. It gives all of them a nice cohesion and there’s a lot of room for cute storytelling and character design.
Each of the characters has a slowly filling bar of hearts. The more time you spend with each character, the better you get to know them. It’s a nice measure of progress, but not entirely needed as I was already coming to care for each of the island residents. The most delightful part of filling that bar, aside from the serotonin of seeing numbers go up as a result of your work, is that at certain milestones you get images of what they were like in their former life. These are always beautifully done and it feels like the most appropriate reward that the game could give.
Like I said, this is a game that unfolds really slowly. Perhaps a little too slowly. There are some objectives that can take multiple days to complete and each one will earn you some spirit logs, a special wood that your campfire, Flamey, is really fond of. Give him enough and a new portion of the island will be revealed. So, not only does progressing through the game give you new characters to run errands for, but it also gives you new swaths of land that you can forage in for the items you are going to need. There’s all sorts of different trees that you can harvest. Plants to grow, animals to raise, and things to dig up. Each of the animals and plants also have things they like and dislike as well, which can affect their harvest based on their surroundings. Even your decorations with the plentiful items you’re given can affect more than just how adorable your campground looks.
One of the stranger elements that I’ve not seen in a game of this nature is the mechanic of how things are colored. You see, your island isn’t all colorful all the time. Only things that are completely lit have color, while the rest of your island will be colorless. When you do the task that your spirits ask you for during the day, they’ll give off a pulse of light, coloring the area around them. This light can then be expanded with torch decorations that give off their own light when place on the edge of existing light. Why is this important? Your plants and animals can only be harvested when they’re lit up. You’ll need to continue doing tasks in order to keep collecting items. Additionally, lost objects you may be searching for will show up more easily in color, though there’s a helpful ranger who will give you directions to hidden items for a handful of coins.
Cozy Grove is meant to be played for only a half hour or so a day, and the game is even kind enough to let you know when there are no more objectives to complete or spirit logs to find. Sure you can still go fishing, but your tasks for the day are essentially done. This slow pace is where I see problems starting to eventually come in for those who become dedicated players. There are a lot of items which are made by fusing 50 of another item that is pretty scarce, at least at the point that I have played Cozy Grove to for this review. I anticipate I’ll have to grind more the deeper I get. If you’re someone who likes to have that kind of a daily grind to come to each day, that’s not going to be a problem. But if you’re someone who wants to see instant results, this might not be the game for you. I don’t think that it was any coincidence that each day I played this game it was to unwind right before going to bed. Cozy Grove is simply, well, cozy!
Cozy Grove purely and simply, is a visual treat. There’s so much about the look of this game that just makes me happy. I kept snapping screenshots left and right at first because every time I saw something new I was like, “Oh! That’s cute. That’ll make a great pic for the review!” I thought that my camper was already cute after designing her, but later finding out that I would be able to dress her up in all sorts of different clothes made things even better. There’s more focus on the decorations for their utility than something like Animal Crossing, but that doesn’t mean that the design of the decorations was neglected in any way. In particular, the variation in design that was achieved for the bears was something I adored. You can tell that they’re all crafted from the same boxy shape and template (at least for those I have seen), yet they’re all still unique in their own way!
The way that the world becomes colored in is really wonderful too. It was always a treat to see the pulse of color come out from one of the spirits after I had completed a task for them. The uncolored areas aren’t entirely dull, though. When I first started the game, I thought the island was a little bland, perhaps, but still really cute. When the bursts of color started coming in, those sections were clearly the most interesting, but it didn’t make the areas that lacked color unpleasant to be in, which I think is a real achievement. Sure, I want to see those areas colored in too, but I don’t feel the need to rush to do so and can take it one day at a time to bring some more light to the island.
The music here isn’t very present. It would be there, sure, but it actually wasn’t constant. It would come and go as it pleased, sometimes leaving me with just the sound effects of the island while I explored and foraged, which could feel very fitting. Other times, a gentle piano would follow my scout around the island, which felt just as appropriate. However, this is one of those games where you could easily listen to whatever music or podcast suits your fancy in the background. It’s that kind of low-key vibe. The only quibble that I had was that there is that cutesy garble talk going on when the spirits speak to you, but it’s so faint in comparison to everything else it’s barely there. There’s nothing really wrong with that, it just felt a little odd.
Pitching your Tent
The entire time that I was playing Cozy Grove, it ran just fine. Any issues I had were so minor that they don’t even feel like they need much mention. There was a singular instance where it stuttered and a small graphical glitch that popped up once or twice, but that was it. There’s no extended DualSense support, but that’s not something that I expect out of a smaller title like this. I’ll admit that from playing the Playstation edition, I don’t know how this runs on the Switch, but given the nature of the game, I do think it would be very well suited to a portable console. There were plenty of nights I wished I could play this laying in bed rather than shackled to my couch.
In for the Long Haul
Cozy Grove is, like I said before, a cozy game. It’s one that’s going to take a lot of time to put into it. Perhaps if you’ve gotten tired of the repetition of Animal Crossing or if your other life simulations have gone dull, this will be the one to give you a spark. There’s a distinct awareness of death here that makes it feel so unique and it’s rare in games that we get such a healthy relationship with death. I mean, how can you resist a game that has a fish named the “collapsed lungfish”?
- Comforting vibes
- Simple daily routines that lead to progress
- A lovely cast of characters that are distinct
- Amazing art style
- There is a bit of a grind due to the leisurely pace
- Requires daily play for progress, which might not be for everyone