My review for Cozy Grove still haunts me, which is appropriate for a game about ghost bears.
Like Animal Crossing, it’s a game that blossoms over months, even years, as everything develops in real-time. But as much as we would like them to, reviews can’t wait that length of time. Or more specifically, they can, but most people will have made their decision of whether to buy it in that period, making the review reasonably moot.
So, we played it for a shorter time than it deserves, and scored it lower than – again – it deserves. We handed it a 3.5/5 (not a bad score, but one lower than we should have given it), and then proceeded to play it for the rest of the year. It’s brilliant, one of 2021’s finest games, and you should absolutely, positively ignore the review that I wrote and buy it.
But there’s an opportunity for review-redemption, because Cozy Grove has received its first large-scale DLC. The New Neighbears DLC is in the house for £5.79 (Cozy Grove base game required), and we get to carry our feelings of injustice (against ourselves) into its review.
For anyone who hasn’t played Cozy Grove, a quick synopsis: you play a Spirit Scout, castaway on the island of Cozy Grove that has its fair share of ghost bears. These bears all have unresolved business, from misplaced memories to regret over how they ruled the island. Your job, as Spirit Scout, is to bring them peace, slowly over several missions. And those missions take you about the island doing very Animal-Crossing-like things, such as gathering shells, cooking meals and fishing fish.
And it’s superb, as long as you understand what it’s trying to do. This is not a game you can binge. You play for fifteen minutes or so a day; play any longer and diminishing returns ensure that it feels unsatisfying. So, you’re coming back day after day, week after week, to see what’s new and complete your ghostly chores. Over time, the island grows, new bears arrive, new tools unlock for you to use, and suddenly you have umpteen Spirit Scout badges and the island is covered in golden bears.
But it’s not complete any more. The New Neighbears DLC introduces – as you’d expect from the title – some new bears for you to appease. If you’ve played Cozy Grove, you will know that new bears represent the most substantial additions that the game could make, outside of a new landmass, so this is a chunk of new content, and a guaranteed extra few months or so within Cozy Grove.
Some housekeeping: the four bears – Beatrice Mellifera, Archie Pawston, Ben Hiberneczek and Lillian McQuill – are not added to the fringes of the island. We couldn’t quite tell you why they aren’t: there are certainly large, empty swathes of Cozy Grove that they could be added to. Perhaps The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild felt like it would make navigating the island too much of a chore. Instead, they replace several of the bears that previously existed. Arjun Bhalla, Bruin Tram, Ursula Pine and Clyde Wallace have all been given the heave-ho, and the new bears take their place. You can see why these bears were chosen – they don’t offer any shops or crafting, like the other bears do – but we found it a real shame to see them leave. We had real soft spots for Arjun and Ursula in particular. And it’s worth noting that you have to have completed those bears to see the new DLC inclusions.
On the positive side, it’s not like the quality has dropped in the swap. The new neighbears are fantastic, written to the same standard – if not better – than the characters that have departed. Our favourite is Lillian McQuill, a papercraft mouse-bear with acute imposter syndrome. Her inner monologue can be heard by the player, with her ego and id in a slinging match with each other. It’s finely observed and a little heartbreaking. Ben is the worst of the bunch, mostly because he seems to channel the same energies as Clyde Wallace, but everyone has a hook that makes them a joy to see develop.
More importantly, all the chaff has been removed from their missions. In Cozy Grove, repeatable, filler missions would stretch out their storylines, diluting the joy of bringing peace to the characters and turning them into their gold, happy selves. In New Neighbears, most – if not all – of that chaff has gone. It’s new dialogue, new missions, all of the time. That concentration of what makes Cozy Grove great is New Neighbears’ finest addition (the storylines don’t get much shorter – as far as we can tell – either), and it makes the DLC utterly essential for everyone who dipped into the original game.
We’d have taken the four new bears alone for £5.79 DLC, but there are some neat frills to the doily. Butterflies have been added, just in case you needed more bugs drawing your eye, but at least they’re ring-fenced to your flower patches. You can tell that The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild wanted to offer more reasons to grow flowers (they are some of the most onerous and arguably least lucrative things to grow), so the butterflies, including their new collections and missions, make a case for creating your own little garden patch.
Rainbow cat pets have been added, and – again – you sense the developers are attempting to solve a problem by stuffing an animal into them. In Cozy Grove, we didn’t use our house much: there wasn’t much use for it beyond stacking up furniture we didn’t use. But rainbow cats can only be added to your house. So, you’re adding them to each room, with a staggering nine hearts to fill by feeding them and surrounding them with decor they like. We found ourselves creating cozy rooms, rustic rooms, spooky rooms etc to satisfy the different needs of the cats, and you may want to do so too.
Otherwise, there are small additions like parties with the bears that can be triggered by chatting to Archie Sawston (a pinata bear that LOVES to get down), and a few others – some extra outfits, some new baked goods – that you will uncover as you play. Outside of the new bears, it’s a liberal scattering of things to find, learn and make.
But what New Neighbears does best, and what filled us with happiness when we saw it on the Xbox Store, is offer new and substantial reasons to return to Cozy Grove. For those of us who have been there from day one, who have been watching the island develop with seasonal and other smaller updates, Cozy Grove had begun to lose its luster. It’s taken over a year to start feeling stale, which is no mean achievement, but it ran out of things to do. And with four new bears, lining up with long and filler-less storylines, the New Neighbears DLC has found the perfect method of bringing that colour back to the game.
We don’t know who gave Cozy Grove 3.5 out of 5 when it was first reviewed, but they need their head checked out. The New Neighbears DLC for Cozy Grove underlines just why this superb sibling to Animal Crossing is such a 4.5 out 5 game. Grab the Spirit Scout uniform, and start collecting some new badges.
You can buy Cozy Grove: New Neighbears DLC from the Xbox Store