There are some games clearly inspired by other titles. Back when Siliconera spoke with Spry Fox’s David Edery about Cozy Grove, he emphasized how Animal Crossing helped shape it and the team wanted to use it to build up certain areas they felt Nintendo’s life sim might not have covered. While it accomplishes that, there are many ways in which the design decisions can make it feel more limiting and a “lite” version of a life sim.
Ghosts exist. They have unfinished business and need help. Fortunately for you, you’re a Spirit Scout. You’re trained to aid them and sent on assignments to get them to move on. Your latest assignment is the island of Cozy Grove. It’s dead there. Literally. The place is devoid of color, life, and warmth, with only specters lurking about. After an incident leaves you trapped, they become your new neighbors and you commit to restoring the island and meeting their needs.
Cozy Grove is a game that isn’t designed to be played in long sessions, which is as much of a bane as it is a boon. You start with very few ghostly bears lurking about. Each one has about one quest per a day, asking for items. If you’re lucky, you can get that job done that day, but it isn’t uncommon for missions to take multiple days. As you work your way into their hearts—literally, as each spirit has five heart indicators above their heads and you have to run errands to make them like you—you get logs to feed to your anthropomorphic bonfire. This summons up more of the lost parts of the island and souls. Which means more tasks.
The idea of life returning is present in the presentation. As your Spirit Scout interacts with ghosts and meets their needs, color and light return to the island. The downside is it can be difficult and impossible to see things whether your surroundings are grayscale or vibrant. Items are layered on top of each other, not offering clear perspectives until you’ve moved into a space and look close. Since the quests to bring solace to the undead involve getting items to meet their needs, you’re constantly scouring spaces for items that might not be immediately visible.
Each quest item does have hints attached, but I’d typically give Charlotte the Ranger the 100 coins necessary to exactly pinpoint where items are. That prompts a marker to show up and lead you exactly where you need to go. Also, you might want to double check the hints. I encountered one that said I’d have to have Francesca “recycle” a root vegetable to make it a roasted root vegetable, when you actually give it to Flamey and have the bonfire burn them to make the dish.
Since these quests involve items, it means a large part of your time each day is spent acquiring materials. You start with a shovel, but eventually also get tools like a dowsing rod, fishing rod, machete, and pickaxe to find relics with memories, fish, fauna, and ores. You might also have to harvest things from the animal spirits you place or flowers and trees you planted. There’s something of a museum, as Billweather the sailor will give you items like quartz and recipes for turning in the first of each item you find. You also get rewards, like coins, for “achievements” earned by performing certain actions a certain number of times.
But this is also a game where inventory space is limited for quite some time. You have 28 spaces on hand, with about eight tent storage spaces until you pay for upgrades. It isn’t like Animal Crossing where you could chuck things on the ground in your home or world and grab it later if you need it. Similarly, decorating involves placing any items you buy, craft, or earn where you have space in the world, also taking into account the item’s preference if it is a living being like an animal or plant. And if you don’t have light sources around or the ghosts near those items are in a “funk” and need a quest done, they’ll be monochromatic until you get things done.
Now, while Cozy Grove does complete its goal of offering more of a story as you go along and help people out, it also feels more limiting than many life sims. For example, after you complete the “mission” for the day for a ghost or needs it, you’ll get rather bland flavor text. Not in the same way as Animal Crossing, where they will have silly anecdotes and small talk based on their personalities. Rather, they’ll sometimes repeat a line or two, until perhaps the game gives you a hint that they’re done by suggesting you leave them alone until tomorrow. You typically get one mission per day from spirits who need help. When it’s done, you’re done with them. And since your storage is limited and your best means of earning income can feel like quests, I didn’t feel encouraged to stick around after my daily half hour.
It didn’t help that I felt like there were some quality of life issues. For example, when you fulfill a ghost’s request, coins explode out. While normal resources are drawn to you, because of the distance they can be out of range of that pull. Which means you have to hunt around for them. And I mean hunt, because the layering issues and color palettes can make it difficult to see some items unless you’re on top of them. The game doesn’t always teach you how to use items. Like there’s no dowsing rod tutorial. (Equip it, go to an area, stand still, and look for a snowflake or fire symbol to possibly pop up.) It takes quite a while to load Cozy Grove up on the Switch.
Cozy Grove is charming, to be certain. It definitely gives you a sense of purpose with its ghosts you can help find peace, collection to fill, and island to decorate. But there are also times when it can feel quite limiting. Once you complete your tasks for the day, you’re really done and your immediately available storage space can discourage you from prep work for ensuing days. Your supernatural neighbors aren’t good for socializing in the same way Animal Crossing’s villagers are. It can also feel a bit cluttered and difficult to find what to do, due to the color palette and environment. It is for certain a thing people interested in life sims would likely enjoy, but it feels very structured and interested in keeping you on its timeline.
Spry Fox’sCozy Grove is available on Apple Arcade now. It will come to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and PC on April 8, 2021.