It’s still a pandemic, but life has pretty much resumed even if we’re not ready for it. This means I’m stuck inside all day but with very little time. At the start of it all, I leaned on Animal Crossing, but I had so much time off as my work figured out how to navigate the pandemic, and I cared for my family. Now, I’m stuck. I want to enter and immerse myself in a world, but I lack the time to jump back into my previous haven. That’s where Cozy Grove comes in. Billed as Animal Crossing but with more story, this game offers up immersion, adventure, crafting, and story. Plus, it does it allows you to do it all in shorter play sessions.
Cozy Grove is developed by Spry Fox and is published by Spry Fox and The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild. In the game, you play a Spirit Scout. Dropped off on the island of Cozy Grove, your goal is to wander the island’s forest each day, talk to the ghosts, and help them complete their stories. Along the way, you find secrets, collect creatures, and bring color back to Cozy Grove.
Like I mentioned above, the real winning factor for Cozy Grove is that it was made to put the story first, and it does so without forcing the player into endless grind loops. Instead, it rewards players for coming back over consecutive days by offering new story items but can easily be played for an hour a day and still feel rewarding.
The island is filled with animal spirits like a merchant who is a fox, a stranded seagull, a ranger who is also a bear, and more. In addition to your ghostly neighbors, you also interact with an adorable, lively fire that gives Calcifer a run for his money. With each quest you complete and each secret you discover, you bring Cozy Grove into color from its black and white setting. One of the game’s best visual elements helps track this story’s progress in a welcoming way.
Each islander has a series of hearts over their heads, empty at first; they each fill up as you complete pieces of their story. You talk with them, complete quests, and learn who they are. Now, it has to be said that these hearts are numerous, making it really easy to see the 40 plus hours of story content available. It’s a nice visual aid to tracking your progress with the different inhabitants.
While there is a lot of story, it’s the fact that each character’s story is packed with a narrative that is both adorable and somber, oscillating between the two – they are ghosts, after all. But even in the sad stories, there is an air of whimsy to the dialogue. This is the beautiful thing about Cozy Grove. It isn’t about the DIYs you can get from them or the ones you can pester into leaving. It’s about forging connections with each character, listening to them, and connecting to them in an empathetic way.
And that’s one of the beautiful elements of Cozy Grove because the island isn’t just about you. You aren’t its god. But you are a listener, a friend, which puts empathy at the core of the game’s story. In truth, you can’t just ignore the island’s inhabitants; while there is a skip story button, not reading the dialogue can make completely certain quests a bit hard. The game pushes you to care and to immerse yourself.
But thankfully, each piece of the story is completed relatively easily when you pay attention. And if for whatever reason, you find yourself stumped on finding the location of a secret to complete a quest, you can buy a clue from the ranger, which allows you to complete a quest just a bit faster if you’re stumped.
That said, Cozy Grove also offers you the ability to craft, fish, dig up items, harvest fruit, and more. While these elements are similar to those in Animal Crossing, they are different. But the best iteration on common mechanics is Cozy Grove’s fishing mechanic. Instead of facing a direction and leaving it up to luck, you initiate the cast by dragging out a dotted line which indicates how far you will throw it. Instead of needing to put your lure immediately in front of the fish, this game allows you a wider area of responsiveness. This helps take away the more frustrating elements of fishing, and while it doesn’t offer rumble or substantial sound changes which alert you to needing to pull in the fish, the game does offer up a very clear visual queue on when to pull the fish up.
Finally, I can’t talk about Cozy Grove without taking the time to note how beautiful the hand-drawn artwork is. From characters to landscapes, every single part of the island feels packed with heart. There is a warmth to every bit of the island, which for a game filled with spirits, is well-balanced against the cooler-toned ghostly elements. That said, because the art is all hand-drawn, the camera is fixed, scrolling with you as you move across the map.
This means that while you move through the island and the foliage, it fades out to allow you to see where you’re going. However, since everything becomes transparent, it’s hard to tell where you can walk and where you can’t. Additionally, the fixed camera makes it hard to place and adjust the furniture that you craft. It’s hard to see how where an item will place, and because of the inability to rotate the camera, you can’t easily tell which way the item is rotating. I still have a table and chair set that doesn’t exactly look presentable.
Overall though, Cozy Grove succeeds on all notes, especially on the Nintendo Switch. Having put time into both the Steam and Switch versions of the game, the latter is the perfect home for this game. As cheesy as this may sound, turning on your Switch, curling up with some coffee, and getting cozy with Cozy Grove is just what you need. Whether you’re looking for a game to play in bursts or a new world to just never leave, this is a title you need to pick up.
Cozy Grove will be available on Steam, the Epic Games Store, PlayStation 4 & PlayStation 5, Xbox One & Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch on April 8, 2021.
Cozy Grove succeeds on all notes, especially on the Nintendo Switch. Having put time into both the Steam and Switch versions of the game, the latter is the perfect home for this game. As cheesy as this may sound, turning on your Switch, curling up with some coffee, and getting cozy with Cozy Grove is just what you need. Whether you’re looking for a game to play in bursts or a new world to just never leave, this is a title you need to pick up.