There’s no denying that the genre of cozy (or wholesome) games has become popular amongst its player base for a good reason. The genre has become large and diverse enough that its roots in progenitor and apparent inspirations such as Harvest Moon, Minecraft, and Animal Crossing, have grown into their own subgenre. Cozy Grove is the perfect example of the constant progression of these purposefully divergent games. It has its roots in modern indies and classic genre-defining (retro) games but clearly understand what players want from both.
Cozy Grove and Animal Crossing
Cozy Grove puts you in the shoes of a Spirit Scout sent on a muddled mission to a small island populated with perplexed but kind spirits. The game certainly feels like Animal Crossing, and on paper, the gameplay reads like it. You spend your time collecting shells, fishing, crafting, and checking in with your neighborhood spirits. While Cozy Grove clearly draws inspiration from the classics, it is fundamentally different. The spirits (in the shapes of various animals), while cheerful, have a profoundly melancholic atmosphere about them. The entire island is devoid of a color palette and feels eerily empty. Only by interacting with the inhabitants and the very island itself does color begin to slowly return. And in this process, you get to know the spirits and bring some comfort and color back into their life.
Also, in the vein of Animal Crossing, Cozy Grove considers your local console’s time. The game is meant to be played over time, weeks, and maybe months to consider all the story and expansion of the island. There’s only so much you can do in a single day; the game continues to reveal more of its cast and activities with subsequent visits.
The gameplay loop is reminiscent of Animal Crossing, of course, but I never found myself bored by the limited activities. In the same spirit of comparison, I would say it has nearly as much to do as Animal Crossing: New Horizons compared to some of the elder entries in the series that had more content on release. I think the key is in realising the game is really only meant to be played in small increments. There is a continuous questline of tasks given by the spirits daily, each of them usually having about one job a day. These range from simple games of hide and seek to more advanced crafting jobs. You’ll even begin to take care of spirit animals as well as take into account the spiritual flow of everything on your island. Certain items in specific locations connect deeper with the inhabitants. If you enjoy designing areas and beautifying them, then there’s a lot of content and items to dig into.
More than its inspirations
There are a few things that set Cozy Grove apart from the games it’s so quickly compared to. First, the art is beautiful and constantly portrays the ebb and flow of the island in rescinding watercolor palettes. Everything feels very much alive, and when you achieve your goals and color returns, there’s a visual satisfaction to it.
There’s also a depth to the spirits that reveals itself as you play and get to know them. As a spirit scout, you spend time at first being lost and directionless, but the more you get to know the community, the more you understand your purpose to these characters. There’s a lot here that reminds me of Spiritfairer in that way. Often small quests lead to poignant and surprisingly endearing conversations with the forlorn spirits.
Cozy Grove, and many like-minded games in the genre have such strong roots in their inspirations. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t stand on their own or deserve merit in the ways they improve upon certain formulas. With more and more demand for the types of games that we may have seen as a niche even 5 years ago, games like Cozy Grove have room to thrive and a player base to celebrate them. The definition of mainstream games and gaming is constantly changing, and especially now, we’re seeing that in games like Cozy Grove.