A Cozy Grove Full of Death

Written By E. Catherine Tobler

E. Catherine Tobler’s short fiction has appeared in Clarkesworld, F&SF, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Apex Magazine, and others. Her novella, The Necessity of Stars was a finalist for the Nebula, Utopia, and Sturgeon Awards. She currently edits The Deadlands.

In times like these, it’s nice to escape. It’s even nicer when you don’t have to pay a billionaire $8 to hitch a ride in order to escape.

Cozy Grove from Spry Fox Games is exactly what its name implies, a cozy grove where you can chill out. Beyond inventory management, fetch quests, crafting food and furniture, and collecting a variety of seasonal items, Cozy Grove contains good stories about helping dead spirits move on into the next realm of their existence, wherever that may be.

You play a Spirit Scout—a psychopomp—who is dispatched to Cozy Grove, a charming but deeply haunted island. Every day, the color drains out of the island and only comes back as you work to help the ghostly inhabitants. You will encounter 17 ghost bears over the course of the game—most of them have memory problems, all of them have unfinished business, sometimes dovetailing with another ghost on the island.

By and large, the stories are gentle, and ask the player to consider the nature of life, death, and what may exist after we’re done with the mortal world. What becomes of the people we loved? Can we actually take our loot with us? Will we be remembered by anyone other than a Spirit Scout on a mission to get their next badge?

On the island, you will meet Arjun Bhalla who is looking for photographs, but cannot remember who they are pictures of. You will also meet Octavia Cubbins, a wheelchair-using bear who lingers at the beach and is haunted by the sea. Your path will cross with imps who mean mischief; imps will steal items from bears or you, but they, like most characters in the game, have two sides—sometimes, the imps will also cry out for help from you, rewarding you nicely after.

You will also find ghosts of war and revolution—and surprisingly deep subjects. Patrice Furbac, who runs the post office, suffers from survivor’s guilt. The loss of his military squad still haunts him. With each bear, the story takes you on a journey to find their most personal mementos so they can rest. You will often be faced with decisions regarding mementos: do you keep them or sell them for profit? What purpose does a memento serve when the being it memorializes is dust in the wind?

Many of the bears will seem familiar—the greedy finance bear, the snooty mayor bear, the raving conspiracy dude, the avaricious farmer—but to lay their ghosts to rest, you will have to look beyond their initial appearance and dig into their personal stories. Why does each ghost act as they do—what in their past may explain their present? Each story encourages us to ponder death and the life that came before—and allows us to see that letting go of one existence may allow us to move on to another.

The bears don’t even know what the ending means for them, says Jeremy, “I’m starting to wonder if my ghostly business will ever be done! Will I stay on this island, light as air and glowing electric blue, until the world ends?”

You may also wonder if your ghostly business will ever be done, as the bears constantly keep you running. After a while, the quests get to be somewhat tiresome—are these bears ever happy?—but their stories will charm you, and sending each off to their rest is fun in the end.

Cozy Grove runs in real-time—in some ways, it is time-gated, so you cannot progress beyond a certain point each day. This can be both blessing and curse—if you can only play after work and the merchant you need appears during the day…  Spry Fox released the game in March 2021; it’s available on PC (via Steam), Nintendo Switch, PS4, and Xbox One. Netflix recently acquired the game studio, so you may also soon find Cozy Grove via their gaming portal.

[photo: Spry Fox Games; in-game photos by ECT]