Spry Fox’s Cozy Grove is a game about kindness and patience. In a medium that puts shock and spectacle at the forefront, those are not feelings most developers are looking to evoke. That’s not to say video games aren’t blossoming into so much more, and exploring all kinds of things, but even Cozy Grove’s contemporaries (I’m sure most people make parallels to Animal Crossing) don’t nail what it means to serve your community in the way that this game does. There are plenty of opportunities to sow your creativity and show your personal expression, but it all takes a back seat to helping out your neighbors by learning their stories, investing in their plights and helping them to make amends.
Cozy Grove has you playing as a Spirit Scout who washes ashore on a quaint but colorless island inhabited by ghost bears. You set up camp near a talking campfire, which tells you that it can expand the horizons of the island if you feed it special logs that you get from helping out the apparitions nearby. In doing so, the game unfurls in a way that slowly doles out new activities, characters and crafting items that teach you how it all works, as well as what your ultimate goal is. The pace is what makes Cozy Grove so brilliant – you can only play for 20 to 30 minutes before exhausting all there is to do. If nothing else, Cozy Grove is a great tool for teaching you to slow down and appreciate the small things. You can’t min/max your way through it; the story and the game’s expectations for the player take a long time to reveal themselves, and intentionally so.
There’s definitely a catharsis to having a routine. I often found myself jogging to different characters to chat with them and/or get a quest, and then would scour the island for doodads, trinkets and collectables until there were no more to be found. As I kept playing, I realized that with my limited inventory space it was best to just look for the things I needed at that moment instead of hoarding. If I had a hard time finding something, I’d chat to a bear, who would point me in the right direction for a small fee as a way to alleviate frustration. You eventually learn to do things like craft, fish, bake and dowse, but they’re taught to you incrementally. Everything is given enough time and space for you to mull it over before the game moves you onto the next thing. Some days it was really exciting to make progress; others left me unable to move the needle at all. But that usually meant that I already had what I needed for the next day, and I was back to being happy. This up and down is a pretty curious approach, often making me wonder whether it was meant to be an allegory for life itself.
Even though Cozy Grove goes out of its way to not feel like a game, there are plenty of elements that will give you a dopamine hit. Almost everything can be cataloged, so nothing is truly wasted, and everything is worth nabbing at least once. There are organic achievements that the game helps to track with handy progress bars next to them. The coup de grace is when you complete a task for a neighbor and watch the world burst into color: coins rain from the sky, and you see a heart meter fill as you slowly reveal more of their story. It’s simple in its execution, but impactful in making you feel good about your deeds.
I’m not usually the type of person who thinks there’s some magical and highly specific way to play any game, but I really like that Cozy Grove tells you to peace out after half an hour. In many ways it’s the epitome of slice-of-life gaming in that you jump in and jump out and maximize what you do in between. But it’s also great at telling you that maybe you as a person should take a break from games in general by telling you you’ve done all you can for the day. I’ve learned over the last year that it’s just as important to take care of yourself as it is to look after others, and Cozy Grove makes sure to remind you to do both. Not bad, silly old bear.
Cozy Grove was developed by Spry Fox, and it’s available on Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, PC and Apple Arcade. We reviewed the Switch version.
Disclosure statement: review code for Cozy Grove was provided by The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.