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A Cozy Grove character with big eyes standing in a field of flowers Image: Spry Fox/The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild

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Cozy Grove is Animal Crossing’s chilled-out, haunted neighbor

Life on a different, not-so-abandoned island

Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

Each day I log into Cozy Grove, the color has been drained from the otherwise abundant island. The lush greenery — tall pine trees, flowering fruit bushes, and twisted vines — is covered in grey. This happens each time I log off; the world I worked to colorize slowly fades back to these muted tones.

Cozy Grove, developed by Spry Fox, is a lot like Animal Crossing: New Horizons — the video game we all sunk much of our lives into throughout 2020. Nintendo’s island-life simulator was inescapable, with life on a deserted island designed to be whatever you want it to be. As long as you collect enough resources to build it out, of course. Cozy Grove’s similarity to that can be seen as a boon or a challenge for Spry Fox; its island-life game will always be compared to Nintendo’s, but that also gives players at least a little familiarity with the genre.

A ghost bear talking to a Cozy Grove Spirit Scout
A ghost bear talking to a Cozy Grove Spirit Scout
Image: Spry Fox

And Cozy Grove has something that New Horizons does not — a very clear structure. Players pick up daily tasks from the spirits around the island, each of which has a clear end goal. These quests are different each day, and they all contribute to building relationships with the spirits around the island.

Cozy Grove is the perfect game for anyone that’s ever gotten stressed out by Animal Crossing, because my goals don’t feel overwhelming or endless, a clear contrast from how I felt a few months into New Horizons.

A cozy, haunted island

Cozy Grove is set on the titular island, inhabited by a group of whimsical, dead, bear-like creatures that have been stuck there a while. I’m a “Spirit Scout,” something of a girl scout, who collects badges to be displayed on her green Spirit Scout sash. The goal is to do Spirit Scout things — like helping the island’s ghost mail-bear find lost mail — to bring life back to the colorless island. The stylized ghost bears give me spirit wood after I help them, and a sentient campfire called Flamey consumes the spirit wood, and the flames illuminate the world, turning it full and lush. It’s here that color comes back to the world, and it happens in such a way that you can feel the warmth spreading out around you. Flamey’s light also reveals new parts of the world and spirits to help out, expanding the scope of the island each time.

A typical day’s worth of Cozy Grove for me takes about a half hour, running around from spirit to spirit, always with a clear task at hand. If I can’t find something, there’s a spirit who can help there, too — pointing me in the right direction of whatever I’m looking for. I never spend too long ruminating on what to do or where to go.

Anyone that’s played New Horizons will be familiar with the sorts of errands necessary to complete the spirits’ tasks. Much of the time, the spirits have lost things that the player needs to find around the island. There’s a lot of fishing, harvesting resources, and collecting items. These tasks can be finished within a half an hour or so most of the time, especially if I just have to do something like find a recipe book that’s been stashed in a pile of leaves, but sometimes a task can require me to log in across multiple days. Say, for instance, I need to bring salt to the spirit baker on the island. That can only be purchased through Cozy Grove’s shopkeeper, and I’ll have to wait if it’s not there on the day I need it.

It helps, too, that Cozy Grove’s writing is delightful; it captures the same warmth of the game’s animations but puts it into words. There’s humor there, too, which adds an extra element of curiosity to the otherwise rote tasks. The reward for completing these activities is more of the game itself, and its charming characters.

It’s OK to log off

One of the more interesting things about Cozy Grove is that Spry Fox doesn’t appear to want to keep the player there all day. Flamey will tell me that there’s no more spirit wood available after a certain point, and I’ll have to come back tomorrow to continue feeding him.

I’m happy that Spry Fox encourages me to log off. Most of the time, at least. But the world of Cozy Grove is so charming that I often want to spend more time there. Sometimes I putz around for a bit, cleaning up my campsite and adding new decorations, or collecting extra resources so I’m overly prepared for the next day’s tasks. But I don’t feel compelled to stick around after my tasks are finished, partly because there’s just not enough to do.

Cozy items on Cozy Grove’s island Image: Spry Fox/The Quantum Astrophysics Guild

While I want to spend more time on the island, I appreciate that Cozy Grove doesn’t want to capitalize on all my time. There’s no Stalk Market equivalent in Cozy Grove which means there’s no stress that I’ll miss out on Timmy and Tommy’s good, good prices. I like that I can play Cozy Grove in short bursts, and like New Horizons, it’s become a daily sort of ritual — my virtual, comforting chores. I loved my time in New Horizons, and that’s why I chose to spend hours and hours each day tending to my virtual island. But after some time, it occasionally became chore-like; there were times I felt overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work I had to do to manage Sears, my island, and I wasn’t alone in that.

That’s what ultimately makes the daily bursts of Cozy Grove, something I can be embedded in for 20 to 30 minutes a day, a perfect balance for my life right now. New Horizons was perfect for its time in 2020, but my brain needs something even simpler today. Playing Cozy Grove in a meaningful way only takes a small period of time, and it’s something I don’t need to dedicate precious mental energy to.

Better yet, because of that, it’s a ritual that I look forward to each day.

Cozy Grove will be released April 8 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Windows PC, and Xbox One. It’s currently available on Apple Arcade. The game was reviewed on Windows PC and Apple Arcade using download codes provided by The Quantum Astrophysics Guild and a personal Apple Arcade subscription. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.