Cozy Grove. (Spry Fox)
A haunted island might not seem all that cozy, but Cozy Grove is an adorable yet flawed little life sim.
As the name suggests, Cozy Grove is a cute and, well, cozy game that fits nicely into the current trend for relaxing game experiences. It’s summed up neatly as Animal Crossing meets Spiritfarer.
That means living on an island, collecting resources, and crafting items, all while caring for the inhabitants…who are ghosts…but they’re cute bear ghosts.
As a Spirit Scout, you’re tasked with helping these spectral bears remember their past glories. After all, the Spirit Scout motto is: “All those who are lost deserve kindness.”
What’s immediately striking about Cozy Grove is its presentation. Its hand drawn aesthetic is gorgeously detailed, while its gently lilting acoustic soundtrack provides the perfect sonic setting to its slow-paced gameplay.
After creating your Spirit Scout – you’re free to select any options, without gender – you’re immediately set to work. The gameplay cycles around helping bears to receive spirit logs of wood which are fed to your talking campfire Flamey. Help them shine brighter and the island will expand, revealing new ghosts to assist.
The emphasis on story quests adds more focus to the game compared with the open-ended Animal Crossing. Each time you play you’ll gradually uncover new story elements, develop your relationships, and bring colour back to a drab monotone world.
The bears are as cute as they are chirpy and upbeat, despite being dead. There’s a ship’s captain bear who’s part seagull, a Canadian bear who apologises for apologising, an artist bear who thinks she’s a tree, and many more. Developer Spry Fox has promised diversity in the characterisation of each, without any capitalist undertones.
Like Animal Crossing, the game runs in realtime, but it’s here its flaws are revealed. It’s meant to be played for around 20 minutes each day – just enough time to complete the daily quests and any chores. But once Flamey tells you no more spirit logs are available, that’s essentially it for the day.
Often that’s because quest items aren’t yet available or need to be farmed or created over multiple days. In some cases it seems excessively long, turning a cute game into a chore. On top of that is awkward item management where you need all items required for a quest in one go before completing it, taking up valuable inventory space.
There are some customisation options to decorate your island, animals to befriend, badges to collect for completing tasks, and rewards for collecting each type of resource. Yet there’s little depth to all this and without the special visitors and celebrations of Animal Crossing to keep you returning day after day, little reason to keep playing.
It’s designed this way, to stop you binging all the content in one sitting. It’s certainly admirable to create a game that doesn’t demand too much of our busy lives – fitting for such a cozy game – but it makes for a shallow experience that instead seems to be eking out a small amount of content across multiple days.
Eventually the days all blend together. Visit bears. Collect hidden items. Farm resources. Repeat. Learning more about your ghostly friends is a delight, but the quests themselves are little more than fetching items infuriatingly hidden among the island’s flora. Cozy Grove is essentially just an elaborate game of hide and seek and the gentle nature of the game isn’t an excuse for its simplicity.
It’s frustrating because there is wholesome charm to the game and undoubtedly a welcome change of pace in its soothing busywork. And perhaps the game will reveal more of its charm with continued play. The developers promise over 40 hours of gameplay spread over months.
Yet after two weeks, it’s hard to recommend Cozy Grove. Even after this time, the stories haven’t developed enough to grab interest and the gameplay already feels repetitive. Right now, even a cute dead bear isn’t enough to lure us back.
2 / 5
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