videogames-cozy-grove-20210428

A scene from Cozy Grove.

When I got the assignment for Cozy Grove, I immediately noted the explanation that this was a game I could only play for 30 minutes at a time. I’m far more used to grinding hours of a game in as short a time as possible, but this was one that actually demanded I take my time with it. It is, after all, the story of a camper arriving at an island of ghost bears and lending them aid. That’s not something you just do overnight.

However, the more I played Cozy Grove, the more I came to appreciate the patience it asked from me… the more it felt like a refreshing break or eager moment to look forward to each day. I wouldn’t mind playing more of Cozy Grove in a single session, but I can hardly fault it for introducing a interesting experience that left me coming back to see more each day.

A Spirit Scout’s honor

Cozy Grove puts players in the role of a Spirit Scout who arrives at a mysterious island. It isn’t long before you meet a character known as Flamey: literally a talking bonfire who warns you that the island is full of ghosts who need help. As a Spirit Scout, it's your job to help them, but Flamey can only reveal these ghostly presences when it’s powered up with Spirit Logs. Fortunately, it doesn’t take you long to find your first one, which reveals the first ghost — a scout bear, or a bear scout … definitely a bear in a scout outfit.

You talk with that bear, help them with some tasks on the island, and they become corporeal for a time, adding color to their space on the otherwise muted island and awarding you with a Spirit Log and other prizes. Bring that Spirit Log back to Flamey and it increases in power, revealing the presence of another ghost, but also requiring an increased number of logs for the next power-up and ghost reveal.

And so you go about the island meeting the new ghost bears (they’re all some different bear-type character), learning little bits about them, and helping them out where applicable, after which they’ll give you rewards like a Spirit Log, coins, or resources to spruce up your campsite around Flamey. They might be a handyman (handybear?) who can create tools or craft items or a sea captain who happily catalogues every resource you come across for rewards.

One thing is for sure though, these ghost bears are all forgetful of their purpose for being ghosts. Once you’ve helped them it will take them a day to work their way through the fog of their being and have something new to share with you. I will admit their tasks mostly amount to fetch quests, but none of it is all that challenging to accomplish either.

That leads us to Cozy Grove’s core gameplay loop. You can’t play this game all in one sitting. Every ghost has their own story to advance and you can only do it once per real-time day. Eventually you’ll run out of ghostly errands to run, story to advance, and Spirit Logs to add to Flamey’s power. That means going to sleep, shutting down and waiting for the next day in real-time. That might be a bummer for those who want to power through Cozy Grove as much as possible, but it also adds a sort of tranquility and anticipation to each session of the game. You can’t force the game to move at your pace, so you might as well enjoy your time with it. At the same time, each day brings new opportunities to see what comes next.

In my review period, Cozy Grove became kind of a highlight of my day. Narratives of certain ghosts would end on a cliffhanger one day and I’d anxiously come back to them the next day to see what was going to happen or how I could help. The fact that Cozy Grove’s visual style is all-around pleasant to look at and the music is — at all times — absolutely relaxing also worked well to make the gameplay loop one that I was more than willing to embrace. It also helps that the characters have narratives that range between comedic and over-the-top to bittersweet and unexpectedly impactful and I generally began to feel for all of them as I got to know them more through the forcibly paced gameplay.

What’s a Scout to do with their spare time?

Fortunately, for those who don’t want to cut their visits short every day, it’s not like Cozy Grove doesn’t offer you opportunities for extracurricular activity. The island is chockfull of resources to explore and side tasks to carry out. For one, you can dig around leaf piles, shake fruit and nut trees, dig up dirt mounds, and mine rocks to get some much-needed resources for your everyday activities. You can also go fishing to collect ocean creatures for your catalogue. Once you unlock the handybear ghost or the baker bear ghost, you can craft different tools, furniture, and food items. You can catalogue anything that you’ve never brought to the sea captain ghost to earn rewards. And it just continues to expand as you continue to help these characters, level up Flamey, and discover more ghosts with unique abilities and stories.

Back at camp, you can collect and place spirit pets like birds and deer that have certain likes and dislikes about them. You can even plant fruit trees, flower pots, and berry bushes that also react to their surroundings. To that end, as you advance in Cozy Grove, you collect all sorts of decorations. You can spruce up your camp and place things like wooden camping furniture, spooky or classy décor, and lamps that your collected flora and fauna might appreciate. That matters because happy pets, plants, and trees give you special resources that you can use to cook and craft with to further improve your campsite.

I’ve mentioned coins several times in this review. There’s a somewhat scary looking fox fellow named Mr. Kit in Cozy Grove and he has a daily arrangement of supplies he’s willing to sell you from his traveling shop if you’re willing to part with the necessary coins or other resources for them. You can buy special resources like eggs, lumber, or salt, new bird pets, special furniture, and even upgrades to Mr. Kit’s inventory. You can even buy new clothes to customize your character. What’s more fun is that every day, Mr. Kit stocks his shop with new items, so you never know what you might find from one day to the next. You can also save up those coins you've been collecting to upgrade your campsite and increase the number of resources you can store - a very handy investment indeed.

With this in mind, as much as Cozy Grove might make you stop for the day on core progression, there is nearly always something you can do if you really want to keep going for awhile, so those looking to extend their daily experience shouldn’t feel too dismayed. Even I wish there was a way to move time forward sometimes, though. Especially at extremely juicy or pivotal moments in any given ghost’s story.

A Spirit Scout is kind, courteous, patient and helpful

Ultimately, Cozy Grove is a far more relaxing, yet in-depth experience than I ever could have expected when I jumped into it. Much like the best parts of Animal Crossing or Stardew Valley, it had a way of hooking me and I can wholeheartedly say that even if I wasn’t reviewing it, the way in which it caught me made it an experience I'm happy to return to daily. There’s an unexpected weight to this game. Everything is so relaxed and cheerful most of the time that you can almost forget that all of the characters are ghosts with baggage keeping them attached to Cozy Grove. It’s through this that I became attached to them and it really hit me when their stories took a turn I didn’t expect, or one that snapped me back to the reality of their situation for a moment.

Cozy Grove is a very different kind of life sim. It’s so cheerful on the surface, but underneath the bark is a process of patience and of letting go the things holding one back or keeping them tethered in a difficult spot. I think for as fast-paced, hectic, and chaotic as our lives often get, there’s something a lot of players could take away from Cozy Grove, and the daily journey with this game makes it more than worthwhile if you’ve got the time and resolve to keep coming back.

This review is based on a digital copy supplied by the publishers. Cozy Grove is available now on PC via Steam and Epic Games Store, iOS via Apple Arcade, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, PS4, and PS5. For the latest information about videogames, visit http://www.shacknews.com.

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