For many, the Cub Scouts was a place to learn about the wilderness and survival techniques as a child. These lessons often culminated in camping trips several times a year, when newly-learned skills were put to use and badges were earned upon completing tasks. Spry Fox’s new life sim game Cozy Grove pulls inspiration from these experiences, depicting one scout’s trip to a secluded island campground. However, this expedition is far from the normal campout.
You are a Spirit Scout sent on your first solitary excursion to a secluded island. You are accompanied by Flamey, a sentient fire who is there to help you with the task of helping the spirits there be at peace. Your scoutmaster sends you to this particular island because it is not supposed to be very haunted, but it’s quickly apparent that there must have been a mistake, as the island is in bad shape and spirits can be seen wandering all around. You take it upon yourself to get to the bottom of the island’s past by fulfilling your original goal as ordered: assisting the inhabitants.
It’s difficult to analyze the plot of Cozy Grove because in order to really get the true picture as to the how and why of the island’s condition requires playing for no less than several months. Only so many quests are allowed to be completed every real-world day, so the story plays out in a very gradual way. This may not be to your taste if you happen to be impatient. One thing that is evident even after completing only a few quests is that the game’s plot tends to be lightly tinged with a macabre tone, which is perhaps not so surprising considering the island has no living inhabitants. This may be a welcome departure for those who’ve grown tired of spending the past year drenched in cute animal villagers and saccharine-sweet locales.
The gameplay of Cozy Grove will be all too familiar if you’ve played Animal Crossing: New Horizons. You can fish, forage, craft, and talk to the inhabitants of the island. The other big similarity is the inclusion of day/night cycles that are dependent on the actual time of day. The difference is that there are actual quests to complete every day that help to expand the size of the island as you feed your pal Flamey more spirit wood, which the inhabitants give you upon completion of their tasks. This also uncovers more NPCs to interact with in the newly-unearthed areas.
Just about every activity in the game can be done either with the joycon buttons or touch screen, which is something that is surprisingly uncommon with Nintendo Switch games. This may be in part because Cozy Grove was originally a mobile game, which could also explain the game’s stretched-out method of gameplay. This move to consoles seems to have had some hiccups, though. There is a significant gameplay slowdown in docked mode, and issues like texture popping can be seen when playing in handheld mode. This is surprising for a game that doesn’t appear to be very graphically demanding. With any luck, this will be sorted out eventually. But as it stands, you will likely notice this issue quite often.
Your gameplay in Cozy Grove is gated daily; you can only do one daily quest per NPC. Once they’ve been completed, there are no more quests to do that day and you have to wait until the next real-world day to collect more spirit wood to expand the island. That said, you are still free to play the game by gathering resources from leaf piles or fishing, both of which refresh indefinitely. The time of day also changes with the clock time, and the fish you can catch changes with the months, which is a nice detail. Even so, this kind of gameplay style takes some getting used to since it’s pretty novel. Though there are some decorating aspects in the game, they are not as expansive as those seen in New Horizons, so the game’s quests take more of a central role here, which makes the slow drip of gameplay harder to bear. It takes great patience to get the most out of the game, and that is an increasingly rare virtue in our modern era of instant gratification.
Which brings us to the dirty term Animal Crossing players either love or hate: time traveling. Like those games, it is possible to change your console’s clock to advance to the next day. The “morality” of such a practice is something that has been debated for many years, and in the case of Cozy Grove, the developers are aware that the more impatient of the playerbase may want to do such things. However, they warn that unforeseen game-breaking bugs can result from doing so and they don’t have much intention to fix bugs caused by the practice, as they are too “tricky” for a small game developer to fix. In such cases, starting a new save file will be the only avenue left to you. Suffice it to say, messing with your system clock while playing this game is not a good idea if you don’t want to risk having to spend several days getting back to where you were progression-wise.
Every real-world day brings a new quest from each of the islanders. These are fetch quests, for the most part, so you may be tasked with finding a certain amount of a forageable item or catching fish. Once an individual quest has been carried out, the quest giver is given color, as is the immediate area around them. It is necessary for trees to be given color before you are able to harvest their fruit, so there are beneficial reasons to complete every daily quest other than gathering spirit wood and reading more plot-relevant dialogue. Daily quests are usually straightforward and simple, but occasionally a quest won’t be able to be finished in a single day. This becomes rather annoying when there is only a handful to be completed in an entire day, and further draws out gameplay that is already stretched quite thin.
Cozy Grove is full of spirit inhabitants: the bear spirits that give quests and fill you in on their own personal history on the island, the imp spirits that scamper around the island like wildlife, and even a few animal spirit types that you can purchase for placement in your camp. The ones you’ll directly interact with, the bear spirits, all have a motif to them and a humorous bear-themed name. For example, Francesca DuClaw is a wooden bear that is friends with the island’s trees (or so she says). Many of these characters also provide a helpful service, like crafting furniture for your camp or baking food you’ll need for certain quests. Meanwhile, the skittering imp spirits sometimes want particular items to eat, and giving them those things yields rare crafting materials. Making all of these spirits happy is a central focus of Cozy Grove, and these interactions give the game no small amount of spooky charm.
The character creator you’ll see at the beginning of the game includes various hairstyles and colors, as well as several eye color and skin tone options. This gives your character a bit of originality. When it comes to personalizing the island itself, there is a shopkeeper on the island named Mr. Kit who offers decorations and materials needed to craft furniture. Fruit trees, bushes, and flowers can also be bought here, which can be placed wherever you want on the island. If you want to add a bit more individuality to your character, Mr. Kit also sells clothing items for several parts of your body like hats and scarves. The array of interesting garments on offer changes daily, so don’t fret if you don’t see anything you like on a given day.
An ever-popular pastime in life sim games is fishing; it can indeed be done on this game’s island. This is done by simply equipping the fishing rod and casting off any part of the coast. Catching fish is very similar to how it’s done in the Animal Crossing games: when the bobber is pulled under the water, reel in the line. It’s a simple process, which makes fishing a fun activity to do if you’re done with all the daily quests or if you just want to relax. Catching fish also nets some money if you sell them to Mr. Kit. In Cozy Grove, there are three sizes of fish: small, medium, and large. At first, you’ll only find small fish, but larger fish start to appear as the days progress. Different varieties of fish can be caught depending on the month in which you play, so finding all the game’s fish is a task that will take some time. The great thing about fishing is that there is no limit on how long you can spend doing it every day, a rare thing in this game.
As you complete all kinds of activities in Cozy Grove, you will gradually start to earn badges, much like you would in a real scouting organization. These are little accolades you achieve for doing things like fishing, crafting, and decorating the island. It’s always nice to get a “pat on the back” for spending time playing a game, but in this case, these badges will also award material gains for everyone you unlock, in the form of money. With a large number of unlockable badges in this game, there will be no shortage of achievements to reach.
It’s evident from any video or picture you see of Cozy Grove that it has a cute art style. Your character is small and adorable, and the denizens of the island all have a whimsical charm. Every bit of the island and the characters in the game are all hand-drawn, so everything you see has a particularly intricate level of detail. However, due to the island not being colored until you either light it with lamps or complete quests, you won’t always get to appreciate the full colorful world of the game until later on when you have the resources to do so. Due to the game’s subtle spooky themes, the little details you see in your surroundings tend to be grim in nature, like skulls being scattered all around the island. Whether this contradiction of cute and scary visuals is an appealing thing to you or not, the artistic vibe of the game is quite enjoyable as a whole.
MUSIC & VOICE ACTING
Like the art style, the songs in Cozy Grove exude an optimistic tone. Every track is performed with actual instruments, chief among them being the guitar. This too fits well with the game’s overall aesthetic. The full soundtrack of the game doesn’t appear to be very extensive, however, so as nice as the songs are to listen to as you play, they may become repetitive considering you’ll be playing every day to progress in the game. As for the voice acting, the only voices to be heard in the game are the incomprehensible mumbles of the campers when you talk to them. This is similar to the style of speech seen in games like The Sims and, of course, Animal Crossing.
Due to the nature of being a daily-gated game, Cozy Grove is designed to be playable for a long period of time. There are many fish, pieces of furniture, outfit items, and spirits to discover. There is also an abundance of badges to earn by playing the game repeatedly. The game is billed as having dozens of hours of playtime stretched out between several months, so at the very least it will take that long to have a better idea of why the island is in such a sorry state. Depending on how you want to play the game, this might not even be an issue. You could very well spend months focusing on decorating your island how you want it.
After the trying times of the past year, it’s likely you wouldn’t mind diving into a game that you can just relax and lose yourself in. Up until now, a certain other life sim has served that role, but Cozy Grove offers a relatively intriguing alternative, though it’s not as effective in that regard despite sharing many similarities. You should also be wary of the performance issues the game has with loading the environment, as this can become frustrating when you’re just trying to get in a quick daily session. Its mix of cute and creepy is a unique draw that many will find compelling. The rationing out of gameplay across short daily sessions won’t be to every gamer’s liking, but those with patience will be rewarded with a game that is great for a bit of light entertainment as you unwind after work or school every day. The music and visuals help to convey this atmosphere as well, as do the cute animal characters. If that sounds appealing, Cozy Grove could be a quirky sim game you’ve been looking for.
Final Rating: 7.5/10.