Cozy Grove Review: Understated To A Fault

Cozy Grove is a game that’s designed to be relaxing, but it takes that mentality way too far, especially if you’re looking for it to be a wholesome distraction from the stresses of modern life. You play as a scout who arrives on a haunted island, but it’s the good kind of haunted. Think Casper the Friendly Ghost rather than The Babadook. Throughout the game, you meet different anthropomorphic ghosts and complete basic tasks for each of them, both to advance their story and improve your island. It’s a life-sim, and we all know how these things work – you do a lot of little tasks that add up to something big. Unfortunately, Cozy Grove’s biggest letdown is that it forces you to play the game at its pace, rather than your own.

The main way to improve your island is with spirit logs. You earn these by completing collections for the various ghosts and repeatedly feed them to your fire to level up your island. Oh, and if you’re wondering “does that mean the fire is a ghost too?” then the answer is “yes, but it’s way less fun than you’d expect that to be.” The fire has to act as the narrator, the exposition giver, and constantly pushes you to go and talk to the other ghosts, so there’s not much room for the fire to actually be a character in itself. If you’re expecting something like Calcifer from Howl’s Moving Castle, you’ll be disappointed.

Perhaps it’s not because of the burden of its role that the fire lacks depth though; perhaps it’s because Cozy Grove is understated to a fault. All of the characters seem to fit into vague tropes – the artsy one, the no-nonsense sailor, and so on – but none of them really commit to the bit. Their dialogue kind of embodies these tropes, but only in the case of minor inflections – there’s never much personality. Each character feels less like an actual person (or anthropomorphic ghost) and more like a walking to-do list. You collect the sticks or the rocks or the lost pieces of paper for them, and a row of hearts above their head slowly fills up while an on screen message tells you that you’ve made some story progress. Only, you haven’t. You don’t often get any actual story, they just say “thanks” and chuck a spirit log your way. The game tells you you’re further along in the story, but it doesn’t often feel like it.

The activities themselves can be dull too, although I would actually argue that’s a good thing. You need to scurry around the island picking up sticks, digging in loose patches of dirt, or hammering away at rocks in order to earn precious resources. It’s not exciting, but games like this are supposed to be for chilling out – it literally has cozy in the name – and a better measurement would be how grindy they are. In Cozy Grove’s case, the grind ramps up after a few days, but never to unbearable levels. In fact, it often deliberately stops you from grinding, and that’s where Cozy Grove’s biggest flaw comes into play.

When you speak to the fire, it will either tell you that someone has a spirit log they want to give you, or that nobody has one. There seems to be between two and four a day on offer, and the tasks don’t take particularly long to complete. The island is small, and many objectives boil down to ‘walk around and find three of this thing’, so you naturally complete them quite quickly. There’s no skill involved. Once the spirit logs have all been found that day, you cannot play anymore. The ghosts have nothing new to say, the resources have run dry, and the customisation features are pedestrian. I appreciate Cozy Grove holding its hands up and saying ‘look, we know you have a life, just dip in for 20 minutes’, but on a Saturday morning with nothing else to do, it would be nice to be able to sink in a couple of hours just pottering about. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t let you. There is literally nothing else to do once the very basic jobs for the day have been completed.

It seems a tad unfair to compare Cozy Grove to Animal Crossing: New Horizons, given that this is a small indie game and ACNH is a Nintendo flagship title. But while I don’t expect things like the museum or the visiting merchants or the turnip market or the 400 villagers, it still feels like greater lessons could have been taken from the genre’s undisputed champion. Animal Crossing gives you a handful of tasks each day, but it also makes it fun to just wander around. There’s a sense that your island is a real island, not something that only exists for the 20 minutes a day you play. It’s not even that Cozy Grove is missing that something special that makes you want to keep playing – despite not being in love with it, it was always disappointing when the fire signalled it was time to wrap things up. I wanted to play more, I just wasn’t allowed.

Had the characters been a little more charming, had each day’s play lasted slightly longer, and had there been something – anything – else to do outside of each day’s central tasks, Cozy Grove would be a much stronger game. But in such a crowded genre where everyone is struggling to emerge from the shadows of Animal Crossing and Stardew Valley, it’s hard to recommend a game like Cozy Grove.

Score: 3/5. A Nintendo Switch code was provided to TheGamer by the publisher.

Next: Trials Of Fire Review – Constantly Burned, Never Shy

  • Game Reviews
  • Nintendo Switch
  • Cozy Grove

Stacey Henley is an editor for TheGamer, and can often be found journeying to the edge of the Earth, but only in video games. Find her on Twitter @FiveTacey

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