There’s a lot to be said about the comfort of a daily routine. When life gets chaotic, routine can keep you grounded, give you something solid to hold on to in the middle of a storm. The more enjoyable and less demanding, the better: reading a few pages of a easy-going book before bed, listening to your favourite album during your morning commute, that sort of thing. It’s this sense of routine that Spry Fox’s Cozy Grove taps into.
Cozy Grove casts you as a Spirit Scout—which is like a regular Girl Scout, only more attuned to the world of ghosts. That little detail comes in handy when your first solo camping trip goes awry, and you find yourself stranded on Cozy Grove: a haunted, ever-changing island home to all manner of oddball, bear-like ghosts.
Ultimately, you probably want to find a way home, I guess, but that’s a problem for another time. Right now, you have the far more pressing matters of a successful camping adventure and your duties as a Spirit Scout. Therein lies the the driving force of Cozy Grove: a low-key life sim that’s mostly just about exploring this strange little island, making new bear-ghost friends, and helping them to try to move on.
The magic of Cozy Grove lies in its design around short, almost ritualistic play sessions. With quests and resource spawns all tied to the real-world clock, there is—intentionally—a limited amount of “progress” you can make each day. Once you’ve completed each available quest, there’s little else to do until the following day, save fishing and just enjoying the quaint-but-just-slightly-creepy atmosphere of a haunted paradise.
That’s a good thing. Again, routine can be a comforting thing, especially when the whole world feels like it’s been turned upside down, and Cozy Grove serves up a wonderful little daily regimen. Jump in, say hello to all your ghost friends and see who’s got any new quests, complete the ones you can, do a patrol of the island to check for ripe resources, maybe wind down with a little fishing or redecorating your campsite. There’s not a lot to each session, but that’s why it works; it’s a nice, soothing little slice of stability you can always count on, perfect for the morning train ride or to wind down at the end of the day.
This structure also means there’s always something new to look forward to the next day. The different ghosts you encounter are all eccentric, loveable creatures with their own stories to tell. They’re not the sort of edge-of-your-seat tales that leaves you desperately waiting for the next part, but rather, simple little playful vignettes that gradually piece together into a bigger picture of who your Grove-mates are, the perfect slow-burn for Cozy Grove‘s daily structure. Some days you’ll wake up and find a new ghost to meet, and a new patch of island to explore that wasn’t there the day before.
And with more ghosts come more overlapping quests. Each bear has their own special trait, like fixing tools or cooking, and as your community grows, the quests grow more dependent on that community. Every quest is, essentially, a list of items to collect, but daily resource limitations and dependencies on where other bears’ storylines are up to mean that, especially in the later parts of the game, it can take a few days to gather everything you need.
Again, that’s not a bad thing. Cozy Grove isn’t a game about rushing to the finish, but about enjoying the familiarity of each day’s visit to your island, and this deliberately-restrictive quest structure helps to create a road-map that makes those daily visits satisfying.
If this all sounds familiar, it’s because it’s pretty much exactly what made Animal Crossing: New Horizons so enchanting. Cozy Grove isn’t subtle about its Animal Crossing influence, and while it’s got its superficial similarities, what’s most impressive is how well it captures that ritualistic element—routine but not a chore, ritualistic but not compulsive, short bursts of play that are still satisfying in both the short and long term. Outside of Animal Crossing itself, I can’t think of any other game that’s really made this work, until Cozy Grove came along.
But that’s not to say it doesn’t put its own unique spin on things. Most significantly, the setting: Cozy Grove is a weird, wonderful place that’s somehow both so inviting and just a little bit eerie. It’s a deserted island by way of Tim Burton, wholesome yet a little but macabre—the sort of place where you can set your mind at ease with a spot of fishing, and where fishing up an ugly centipede-like thing called a “Ghost of a Drowned Sailor” is just part of what makes the atmosphere so charming.
The whole ghost aspect also has a more practical side: colour. Under normal circumstances, Cozy Grove is a place devoid of colour, making it harder to find things you’re looking for, impossible to harvest fruit that depend on colour just to exist, and an altogether less inviting place. But completing a bear’s quest brings forth a burst of colour in the surrounding area—just for the rest of the day, but enough to breathe a bit of extra life into Cozy Grove and make finding things a little bit easier. It’s a neat twist on the life sim concept, if a little frustrating at times if you find yourself blocked on a quest and stuck in a world of black and white for a while.
But when the colour pops, it really pops. Cozy Grove‘s art style is beautiful, a dreamy watercolour wonderland full of curious little details and overflowing with character. This is true of the black and white world too, to an extent, but when you restore colour, you get to really enjoy the beautiful sights of this strange little island.
Cozy Grove isn’t shy about its Animal Crossing inspirations, and while it may not have the sheer expanse of Nintendo’s island paradise, it brings some fresh ideas and plenty of its own spooky-cute personality into the mix. Most of all, it’s a game that knows how soothing a familiar slice of routine can be, and builds itself around those little daily bursts of comfort—never overstaying its welcome, but always there to ease you into a new day or to help you drift away at night.
Title: Cozy Grove
Developer: Spry Fox
Publisher: Spry Fox, The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild
A review copy was provided to Shindig by the publisher.