When we are about to start a new game, the first impression can really set our expectations towards the rest of the experience.
Cozy Grove, for instance, sets an extremely high bar thanks to its superb art style that instantly captivates anyone looking for those types of relaxing, easy-going, life-sim games. Its initial premise is also a perfect match to that beautiful presentation: here, you are a Spirit Scout, a person whose main job is to help spirits in their afterlife. Following this Spiritfarer–like narrative, you go to a haunted island, where you’ll spend your days fulfilling the wishes of different spirits, all the while engaging with activities such as fishing, mining, and foraging.
Considering all these things (which sound amazing on paper), it is easy to say that Cozy Grove looks, sounds and feels like something with the potential to be the next Animal Crossing lookalike. Unfortunately, though, this is a case where the expectations are set so high that the rest of the game can’t really keep up with it. A repetitive quest system, some limited customisation options, and a bunch of infuriating technical issues takes away a lot of the shine from this colourful little title.
And it all starts with the structure of the game. While the top-down perspective of Cozy Grove may bring to mind games like Don’t Starve, and its plethora of activities can make you think of Stardew Valley, Cozy Grove actually mimics in a very literal way the structure of a specific title: Animal Crossing. This means that progress basically happens in increments of 30 minutes. At each in-real-life day, the spirits available on your island will give you a specific task. Once you complete their errand, and collect their progression-related item (a spirit firewood that you give to Flamey, the guide-bonfire of your island), you then will need to wait an entire new day to get the chance of unlocking meaningful tasks again.
While this structure works to perfection in games like Animal Crossing, Cozy Grove comes with some weird limitations and an ever-present repetitiveness that leads to a less interesting gameplay loop overall. One of the biggest problems here lies in the actual subject of most quests. As mentioned before, each day, one or more spirit will ask you something. More often than not, what they need are one or more items that you need to find around the island. At times, their demands will make you do different activities, such as fishing or crafting – but these are the exceptions. Most of the time, you simply need to find an item that is somewhere around the island. An activity that should be fun and fresh becomes a repetitive instance of Where’s Wally? – which just gets worse when you consider how messy the island can be at times.
Making an unfair comparison again, Animal Crossing presents the player with a staggering amount of customisation options, allowing you to make pretty much anything you want with your island. In Cozy Grove, the options are too limited. You can place a few selected items around, and move certain elements from the scenario, but there are many things that aren’t much more than ornamental. While they help to give life to the island, fulfilling the scenario with countless little details, they result in a hindrance to the specific type of quest Cozy Grove insists on displaying. There is always so much stuff around that it compromises the general readability of the scenario. As a result, sometimes it is really hard to identify between interactive elements and simple ornamental stuff. Sadly, due to the lack of customisable options in the game, you can’t really ‘clean’ the island and remove this potential hindrance.
Unfortunately, at the time of release, the game suffers from some constant technical issues. When walking or – especially – running around the island, you can notice a frequent pop-in of elements all around. In addition to that, some of these pieces have their own little collision boxes, which transform the mere act of navigation into a nuisance, as you can’t access certain locales depending on the random disposition of elements. As if that wasn’t enough, the framerate itself can take a serious hit at particular moments. When you fulfil a request from a spirit, there is a beautiful animation where the spirit spreads colour to its entire vicinity – an effect that should be delightful, if not for the always-present frame drops.
Thinking about the sheer potential of Cozy Grove only helps to aggravate these issues. If you choose to overlook the problems, you may find a game that manages to tick some boxes when it comes to that carrot at the end of the stick. To keep you hooked, the game has a large selection of badges to award you for pretty much every activity that you can find on the island. In addition to that, once the spirits start to open up, you may be able to witness some truly remarkable narratives. It is a shame that these positive attributes are stuck behind a barrage of problems.
Cozy Grove £10.99
Cozy Grove is a game with tons of unfulfilled potential. A case of style over substance, it may give completionists plenty of reasons to come back on a daily basis, but every time you do, you have to deal with technical issues and repetitive quests.