Rule number 1 of being stranded alone on an uncanny haunted island would probably be to avoid making contact with the ghostly inhabitants who occupy the forsaken isle. Luckily, the ghosties in Cozy Grove you rub shoulders with aren’t the type for which you’ll need to call Ghostbusters. Cozy Grove is the tale of a stranded Spirit Scout’s daily quest to uncover the shrouded memories of cute, colorful, and comical spirit bears. Robinson Crusoe meets the Berenstain Bears, Yogi Bear’s ghost holds some dark secrets, and Casper has now turned into a “corn on the cob.” Developed by Spry Fox, Cozy Grove is available on the PC, Nintendo Switch, Xbox, Playstation, and iOS storefronts.
Getting Your “Bearings”
Marooned on an abandoned and haunted isle, upbeat Scoutmaster Blake is optimistic for your survival but is doing the “bear” minimum to form a rescue. However, you being the capable Spirit Scout you are, set out to earn your Scout badges by unraveling the mysteries of Cozy Grove. Accompanied by your stationary campfire, Flamey, you have to bring color back to the lifeless, monochrome island by completing quests for the local spectral residents. Fulfillment of these “bear necessities” will reap rewards of cakes, saplings, decorations, and most important of all, Spirit Logs. Your campfire assistant, Flamey, will consume these Spirit Logs to expand the size of the island to reveal new ghosty locals in need of your aid.
Similar to Spiritfarer, the overarching premise of Cozy Grove is to accommodate the NPCs to progress their stories, which in turn furthers your narrative. As the “spiritbearer,” you encounter characters who each “bear” their own unique and animated personality. The more you do for these spirits, the more you’ll learn about the darker pasts of their former lives. Some will have whimsical tales to tell, while others have rather grim backstories to share. The writing isn’t anything to write home about, but it does add a sense of mystery and some comical moments to the soft and snug nature of Cozy Grove.
Simple Life Sim with a Daily “Paws”
Once every blue moon, the game industry gods graciously provide us with a charming life sim so immersive that the game transcends its soothing reverie and practically becomes intertwined with the very essence of our daily lives. Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing: New Horizons are some of the better examples, titles that are so calming and content-rich that you’ll sit down for a “quick” session only to realize over ten hours have flown past. Grindy yet therapeutic games such as these somehow cause the time to flow seamlessly — probably a bit “too seamlessly” for some. We wish to habitually enjoy our obsessive, collectathon sims without risking our time being dreamily whisked away. By simplifying and limiting the life sim gameplay loop, Cozy Grove resolves this dilemma by taking a play-once-a-day approach to its gameplay.
While activities such as foraging, crafting, decorating, and fishing are doable to your heart’s content, Cozy Grove‘s progression is tied to real-world time. A day’s worth of tasks will take an average of about 30-60 minutes. What you choose to do afterward will depend on your creativity and the resources you’ve procured over time to fuel that creativity. The overall idea is very similar to Animal Crossing, albeit on a much smaller scale. Cozy Grove doesn’t deliver more than its basic presentation. You’ll manage orchards, care for pets, and decorate the island on a superficial level. While I found the shallow gameplay loop to be fulfilling and enjoyable, for others, it could be a somewhat “hit or miss,” especially for those who feel less inclined to repeat fetch quests on a day-to-day basis.
However, the “shallowness” of Cozy Grove‘s gameplay is arguably its strength since the game is designed to be a daily “quick and chill” session of gameplay. Grinding is involved, but only to a casual level that doesn’t overstay its welcome. Using myself as an example, Cozy Grove has become my morning ritual for about a month. The game never rushed me or coerced me to feel inclined to play. It has become an almost meditative experience where I open the game, finish my quests, do some quick decorating, crafting, or fishing, and then log out for the day — all within less than an hour.
Without a doubt, Cozy Grove pushes all the right buttons when it comes to giving your brain miniature dopamine rushes. Everything is connected to making your time in Cozy Grove feel rewarding as possible. Along with the compensation from quests, the game is continuously celebrating new milestones that the player achieves through Merit badge achievements. Cozy Grove features a mini-museum for your collectathon addiction, a myriad of badges to earn for your virtual Scout sash, and the various rarities of decor to place about the island without restriction. Not to mention, your Scout’s appearance and apparel are entirely customizable, giving you total freedom over how adorable you want to look.
Cutesy Bloom with a Low-fi Tune
The visually appealing hand-drawn art style of Cozy Grove overflows with charm. The “children’s storybook” presentation of the characters and environment brings a warm and cheerful atmosphere. Yet, there’s attention to detail in the artwork’s design that reverberates an aesthetic quality that all ages can undoubtedly appreciate. Every day you boot up Cozy Grove, you’ll come to find that the island regularly changes how it looks, giving the visuals an “extra tang” in its diversity. Bear in mind, it is only the non-interactable decor in the environment that is randomized. The objects you have placed down in a specific location will stay put.
The low-fi serene soundtrack is a great listen that perfectly matches the “kick-back” vibes of the gameplay. A mix of upbeat Southern guitar, slow and soft trumpet, delicate piano, and campfire harmonicas really get you in the spirit to roast some smores. Unfortunately, this feeling lasts only for the first few hours of the game. The lack of variety in OST is very noticeable as the days pass. Being as compact as the game is, it’s understandable to feature only a few gentle tracks, but it would have been nice to hear a bit more variety in Cozy Groves‘s tunes. Overall the audio is limited but far from lackluster.
A Niche Cup of Tea
In conclusion, it’s hard not to recommend Cozy Grove to someone who thoroughly enjoys life sims like Stardew Valley or My Time in Portia. All the elements of its mellow gameplay loop, charming cast of characters, and unhurried narrative will most definitely appeal to lovers of the genre. Mind you, the game is relatively shallow and quite literally small, so be careful not to go diving in headfirst, or you’ll receive an unpleasant shock, like getting to the bottom of a Drumstick ice cream cone only to realize the “chocolate tip” was missing. Additionally, you are time-gated from enjoying the Cozy Grove more than you have to, which could be a godsend for those who lack time but would still like to meta-experience a cutesy life sim. On the other hand, those who wish to “game more game” will be terribly unsatisfied when the game forces them to go do something else productive with their day. As for myself, I am going to continue farming sticks for the next few days so that I can finally build a carousel next to my frog slide.
- Great casual life-sim gameplay loop
- Time gate is perfect for short sessions
- Charming art style and hand-drawn visuals
- Daily gradual progression always gives players something to do
- Characters with meaningful backstories
- Daily progression restriction can become a major hindrance
- General lack of depth in gameplay