Bree somehow managed to weasel her way into a game design degree, is perpetually writing, and hasn't stopped playing Skyrim since it first came out.
Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch
April 8, 2021
Spry Fox, The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild
If you love the very special brand of relaxation that comes from the Animal Crossing series, but after over a year with New Horizons are looking for something similar but just a little bit different, then maybe Cozy Grove is the game for you. It doesn’t feel so much like a game, as it does a relaxing space for you to drop by and visit every day. Instead of a number of cute animals to interact with, the island is inhabited by friendly ghosts!
You play as a spirit scout who’s dropped onto an uninhabited island with the task of helping any ghosts on the island to finally pass on. When you first arrive, the island is completely rundown and displayed in only blacks and whites. Then as you start meeting and helping ghosts, the island becomes brighter and busier. At first, your sole companion is your friendly fire pit pal Flamey, a sentient flame who loves eating spirit wood and is willing to answer any questions you might have about the island. Spirit wood is obtained by helping out ghosts, and after feeding enough of it to Flamey, he is able to reveal other ghosts for you to meet. It’s a good little gameplay loop.
The gameplay itself is simple, but that’s all that it needs to be! Most of the tasks you will be completing are little fetch quests for the ghosts around the island. Sometimes they will ask for something just lying out on the ground somewhere that can be picked up and brought straight back, but most of the time there is a little more work involved. Maybe they want you to craft or cook them something, or maybe you need to catch a number of fish. Occasionally, something that a ghost wants from you won’t be available right away and you will be encouraged to finish what you can, and then log off to see if there are any new developments by the next morning.
This is actually a big part of the game. Patience. Even after you have finished all your possible tasks for the day, you can still fish and collect shells to your heart’s content, but none of the main plot will continue. There’s a postman ghost who delivers new letters to you every morning, and all of the ghosts on the island will only ask for you to complete a new task the day after you finish the prior. It managed to incentify me to check on the game day after day in a way that was similar, but altogether different from Animal Crossing. It wasn’t just to see what new items might be around, but also because I wanted to learn more about the ghostly inhabitants haunting the island. This is where Cozy Grove manages to supersede even Animal Crossing. The ghosts are each their own individual characters with memories and regrets that you need to help them remember.
The main driving force behind the game is the past that these ghosts all need to let go of. For every task that you complete for one of them, you get a little bit closer to finding out the memories that the ghosts have forgotten. New pieces of information are shown through artwork or dialog, as they try to piece together what their lives were before they passed away. Every ghost is completely unique, with different character traits and hobbies, along with individual problems that need solving. Animal Crossing really doesn’t have anything like this. Each character in the Animal Crossing games instead comes from a certain preset ‘personality’ and they repeat the same dialog over and over. Whereas the ghosts in Cozy Grove ironically feel so much more alive, and discovering the history of both them and the island itself is what will bring you back to play more each day.
“Everyone in Cozy Grove is an adorable, friendly shape”
Visually, Cozy Grove is a beautiful game. It has a flat isometric art style that looks almost pensil drawn. Immediate comparisons are sure to be made to Don’t Starve, a brilliant game with a very similar art style but an entirely different tone. Everyone in Cozy Grove is an adorable, friendly shape, just screaming for you to give them a hug. Even the pesky little imps that roam around the island are cute as a button. It has a beautiful watercolour palette that manages to be vibrant, but still very calming. The score also does an amazing job contributing to the mood. All of the music pulls you into this perfect sense of relaxation. One thing that does detract from this a little bit though is very frequent framerate drops on Switch when running through an area with a lot of objects on screen. Given the nature of the gameplay, this won’t cause any big problems, but it can still be annoying and even take you out of the experience when it happens.
If you are looking for a new game to chill out with, Cozy Grove is definitely going to scratch that itch. It has enough in common with other life simulation games to make you feel comfortable, whilst still being different enough to have its own identity. I can’t speak to how much longevity this title has, but I do know that every moment for me has been a joy. So put on your Spirit Scout sash and head to the island, you’re going to love it!