As someone obsessed with Animal Crossing, I'm always searching for life-sims that capture the same whimsey and charm but on PC. Out of all the games that sprout up when talking about Animal Crossing—namely Stardew Valley, A Short Hike, Ooblets, Spiritfarer, My Time at Portia, and the like—I've found that Spry Fox's relaxing Cozy Grove is the closest. It has everything you could want from a life-sim, and coupled with its gentle story it's a game that could even rival Nintendo's gentle goliath.
In Cozy Grove, you play as a Spirit Scout who has been sent to a haunted island to help its residential spirits—who also happen to be anthropomorphic bears. The ghost bears can't pass on until they come to terms with something in their past lives, so you'll need to restore the island and help them find their way to the afterlife.
It's a life-sim collectathon through and through. Each island resident will give you tasks to complete, and through scavenging and crafting, you can fulfill their needs. Cozy Grove mixes things up a bit, though, like making the hunt for resources more like a hidden-object game. The game's art style is dense with detail and colour, and as you skip across the island, trees, rocks, and objects fade in and out of the scene, making it easier to search the landscape. Finding items isn't just a case of wandering around until you stumble upon them, but actively seeking them out.
The ghost bear carpenter, who has the fantastic name of Jeremy Gruffle, asks you to find some branches for a workbench, while the postal bear Patrice Furbac will task you with finding a lost package—it's all breezy stuff. As you help the spirits out, the island becomes bigger, revealing more ghosts in need. You'll even get badges to add to your Scout Spirit sash when you've met certain island goals.
It's relaxing task-ticking at its finest and I've loved what I've played of Cozy Grove so far. The only gripe I have is that it uses Animal Crossing's real-time clock system where there's only so much story-related stuff you can do each day. After I had completed the day's quests, there was nothing left to do goal-wise aside from some fishing and scavenging. Not having the ability to skip to the next day in a life sim is torture for a player like me who has no self-control, and a game telling me to "come back tomorrow" is agonising.
Even so, I can see the choice behind the real-time clock decision. Cozy Grove doesn't demand anything from the player, and its laid-back vibe encourages players to hop in for an hour or two and then leave when they're done. In the two hours I played, there was plenty to do, and before I called it a day the island had a shop, a postal building, and I had decked out my campsite in some lovely rustic furniture.
As much as I'm looking forward to completing the daily tasks of Cozy Grove each day, I'm also looking forward to getting to know the island's residents. As cute as the characters are in Animal Crossing, it gets a bit ridiculous when one villager's whole personality is that they're buff and they like to lift weights, so getting to know the spirits of Cozy Grove is exciting. Each one has a backstory that unravels over time, and as you restore the island you also restore their memories, getting to know more about their past life and how they died.
Cozy Grove comes out on Steam and the Epic Game Store sometime in the first half of 2021, and I can already tell that I'll be sinking many days into this haunted island and its adorable ghost bears.