Cozy Grove Review: A Ghostly Experience That Might Be Worth Ghosting (Switch)

Cozy Grove provides a new take on the camping experience. This game has spirit, literally, but there's a bit of turbulence in execution. Does the stellar story save an otherwise mixed bag of a game? It may work for some, so it's worth a cursory view for consideration.

Cozy Grove Switch Review A Ghostly Experience That Might Be Worth Ghosting Cover

With the success of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, comfy life sim games seem to be popping up more often these days. Cozy Grove is one of them that sets itself apart, though. Spry Fox, who developed and published the game, seems to have borrowed many elements from 2020’s massive hit. You’ll find yourself taken to a barren island, where you have to craft, decorate, and help those around you to spruce the place up. The distinguishing factor here is the spooky vibes they’ve managed to sneak into the still cozy experience. The residents of Cozy Grove just so happen to be ghosts, and they need a lot of help. Helping the spirits is a good time, but helping the rest of the game is beyond our control. 

Cozy Grove is available on PC through Steam or the Epic Games Store. You can also find it on Switch, PS5, Xbox One X, and the Apple Arcade.

Cozy Grove - Launch Trailer - Nintendo Switch

Story: An Excellent Slow Burn

The narrative of Cozy Grove is another thing that sets it apart from other life sims. This is a light, story-driven experience. You, a member of the spirit scouts, arrive at the island for your first solo outing. The spirit scouts are an organization, much like the girl or boy scouts, that teaches survival and camping skills. Unlike typical scout programs, they also teach you how to speak with the dead in order to help them with anything that might be keeping them from moving on.

When you reach the island, accompanied by your sentient campfire Flamey, you’re left to your own devices. Keeping in mind that you’re there to help spirits, it’s not long before you meet the first of the ghost bear residents. As you help them, they reward you with spirit logs, a special type of wood that you can feed to Flamey. After consuming enough of them, his light burns brighter, allowing you to access more areas of the island. There seem to be many secrets hiding among the ghosts, and helping them is a great way to get them to loosen their lips. The more you help, the more you get to learn about Cozy Grove, the spirit scouts, and their history.

This game is meant to be played over a long period of time, so the narrative unravels slowly. I like the slow burn. It makes the information feel more earned. The fact that it doesn’t reveal too much too quickly is what keeps me wanting to return day after day to hear the ending.

Flamey helps you locate spirits and provides other helpful resources as well

Flamey helps you locate spirits and provides other helpful resources as well

Gameplay: Ups and Downs

Character creation is extremely important in a life sim. If I’m living a new life, I want to be in charge of what I look like in it. Cozy Grove offers a pretty simple creation system. The only things you can change are the hairstyle, hair color, eye color, and skin color. Other than those, everyone’s character will look the same. But they offer more than enough options for each to keep things interesting. You can also change those features later, along with trying on new outfits. It may be simple, but it offers plenty of opportunities to express yourself.

The only thing I found strange about character creation is that I didn’t get to choose a name for myself. All the characters simply refer to you as ‘scout’. There’s no glaring issue with this, but it’s unusual for a life sim not to give you that option.

Moving onto the core gameplay, I noticed some twists and turns in quality. Your main goal is to help every spirit on the island with their problems. This usually takes the form of bringing them some sort of item. If it’s a unique item, you’ll find it hidden somewhere on the island. But many quests require resources that you find by digging, mining, and cutting weeds.

There are many different types of resources, like food, fish, sticks, ore, and others. The variety of them keeps things exciting because you never know what you might find. The issue, though, is that the inventory space, while large enough for most games, doesn’t seem to take into account the variety. My pockets filled up extremely fast. I had to upgrade my tent’s storage a few times just to hold all the things I’d found.

This may not seem like many options, but coupled with costumes, it's enough for a custom experience

This may not seem like many options, but coupled with costumes, it’s enough for a custom experience

Part of the reason I had to carry so much is that tools and decorations both take up inventory slots. There are a ton of different decorations to find. That gave me the impression that beautifying the island was meant to be an important part of the game. But because the area fills in with props gradually, I never knew where a good place to put my decorations would be. I ended up holding on to many of them, taking away precious resource space. That bothered me because I enjoyed finding new resources. They prove very useful for activities like crafting, baking, and cataloging your findings.

My personal play style might account for some of those issues. Others are rooted in decisions made by the development team. Overall, there’s a lot to like in Cozy Grove, but a few unusual choices stuck out to me. They told me upfront that the game is meant to be played for about 30 minutes a day over a long period of time. That confused me for a while. It turns out they meant that story missions only last that long. When there are no more spirit logs to find that day, Flamey will tell you. That makes for a good cue to take a break. If you prefer, you can still collect resources and decorate the island.

The daily tasks were another aspect of the game that I don’t think worked out as planned. Because I carried so many resources with me, I almost always had what I needed before I even started the quest. So instead of having to gather more, it was just a matter of talking to the quest giver again. That drastically cut down on my playtime.

You can earn spirit logs by helping ghosts with their problems

You can earn spirit logs by helping ghosts with their problems

A couple of other issues arose, I think, because of the various platforms the game is available for. Even though you can play it on anyone you like, it seems like it was made with mobile gaming in mind. Multiple times, I was instructed to move somewhere by tapping. It’s worth noting that the switch does have a touch screen, and the touch controls do work, but the analog sticks feel much more natural. I don’t know if that prompt is in versions of the game for non-touch platforms.

The saving system also feels more mobile-oriented. The game autosaves, but I never saw any notification about when. I eventually learned that quitting out to the menu saves the game. On the switch, though, I usually don’t see the menu when I stop playing though, because the home menu lets you change games. I ended up losing some of the actions I’d done the previous day because I wasn’t aware of that save system.

Audio and Graphics: The Cozy Promise Delivered

Cozy is the perfect description for this game. The visuals and audio exemplify it perfectly. The characters are adorable. The scenery matches them well. And I particularly enjoy the way the color fills in as you play. Both the black and white backgrounds and the muted colors give an atmosphere of comfort. Based on visuals alone, I could look at the game all day.

The backtracking is the type of music I’d put on before taking a long nap. It’s extremely comforting. A few times, I almost started nodding off. The poppy effects that play in the inventory helped snap me out of it, though. The only problem with them is that they’re so soft I had to max out my volume just to hear them. Then, when I switched games later, things were way too loud. Just remember to fix that before playing something else, though, and you’ll be fine.

This game was reviewed on Nintendo Switch with a key provided by Quantum Astrophysicists Guild.

Summary
The title rings true, as this might be the coziest game I'll play all year. The lovable characters make for great friends, and the island's scenery is the perfect backdrop. The story of the Spirit Scouts shines through particularly well, despite how slowly it's told. Unfortunately, these high points are held back by confusing design choices. The gameplay isn't poor but gets a bit dull over time.
Good
  • The slowly emerging story is interesting and well told
  • The cozy elements shine through exceptionally well
  • An eclectic cast of characters keeps things interesting
Bad
  • The real time day system hinders emersion
  • Audio is difficult to hear without extremely high volume
  • Quests are very easy, and at times not engaging
6
Fair
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