HomeReviews3.5/5 ReviewGarden Life: A Cozy Simulator Review

Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator Review

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Real-life gardening does nothing for me. But put gardening into a game and I’m there with marigolds and a soft kneeler. It’s the same with fishing: gaming can get round the dull stuff like waiting and rain, offering results within seconds. The gentle game loops are liable to get me hooked for weeks on end. 

There was no way I was going to miss Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator. I mean, look at it. It’s already side-stepped a common criticism of gardening sims like, uh, Garden Simulator, by being inordinately attractive. It’s like the most beautifully presented visual novel, scattered with seeds and overgrown to the degree that it’s become a farming sim. For once there’s character, story, personalities, and a slightly French, slightly Victorian, but altogether quaint world to exist in. Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator is lovely, darling. 

Garden Life A Cozy Simulator Review 1
What a wonderfully cozy garden simulator

And then there’s the gardening game loops, which are as dangerously addictive as you might hope. Plant a seed, water it, and wait barely three minutes for it to grow. Then dead-head it and you have a flower – and perhaps some seeds – that can be taken to your market stall. Buy more seeds and voila! You have a budding floral industry. Your garden fills out with more and more flowers, some rare, some less so, and eventually you have enough money to unlock additional space. That greenhouse next door? One day it will be yours. Which is all to say that Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator gets the basics of garden and farming simulation down pat. 

If you’ve played Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing, you might be initially taken aback by the freedom you’re given: there’s no grid for you to plant seeds in, as you can pop them pretty much anywhere you want. Tightly packed or spread out? It is entirely up to you. That freedom is welcome but also liable to create issues. We accidentally packed our roses too closely together, and they became a jumbled monstrosity that was difficult to tend to. 

Slightly unusually, Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator is also precise. You’re not tapping A next to a flower to stick it in your inventory: you have to manually move to your pruning shears and choose the exact point on the stem where you want to make a cut. We’re not entirely sure this precision matters – we have conspiracy theories that a higher cut means the flower will regrow quicker, but that’s not backed up by facts – but Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator asks you to make the cut anyway. The same goes for your many inventories, which you have to deal with manually and – if we are honest – in a slightly unwieldy fashion.

We’re appropriately on the fence about whether this degree of tactility is a good thing. There’s a real sense that you’re in the garden, rather than some kind of approximation to it. You’re sidling through your peonies and hellebores, looking for bug infestations to spray or dead plants to dig out. It’s a very 1:1 simulation. But equally, it can get a bit clogged. When there are lots of plants in one place, the targeting can go a bit haywire. If you want to prune or spray a specific plant, it can feel a touch awkward, and we wished for something a little more intelligent and responsive. 

Garden Life A Cozy Simulator Review 2
Time for a water

But mostly Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator is delightful. We found ourselves forming a daily rota (Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator works to a day-night cycle, with night-time offering much less to do or see, so you may as well pop on the bus home). Mornings were for watering – although sprinklers and hoses soon made that step moot – while the afternoon was for hoovering up the seeds in our harvest bag, and traveling to the local market for selling wares and contributing produce to one of the game’s progression systems: a series of wicker statues that need a number of flowers to complete.

Which is to say that we did precisely what the title said we would do. We relaxed, found ourselves in a Cozy space, and relished the gentle game loops on offer. Credit to stillalive studios for ensuring that there was very little pain or tension in the loops. If a plant dies, you can dig it up and regain the seed that it started from. Nothing is lost, and you can take as long as you want to achieve your objectives. We completely forgot about a list of objectives, sellotaped to the shed wall by the garden’s ghost owner (it’s a long story), and only went back to it after Day 45. Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator said that was absolutely fine. No biggie. 

Can you sense the ‘but’ coming? We deeply loved the mood of Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator, and wanted to stay in its embrace for as long as we possibly could. But we couldn’t, largely because Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator is surprisingly flimsy. That flimsiness isn’t obvious in the opening couple of hours, but it becomes more so as time wears on. 

Part of the problem is down to simple design decisions. You have a cap to the number of plants that you can have growing at one time, but that number doesn’t go up. Rebuild a bridge so you can access more square-footage of land, and you won’t be able to plant anything new. All you can do is dig up what you already have and replant it in the new area (which, as it happens, is a longwinded and unsatisfying process, so we only did it begrudgingly). We maxed out our garden in the opening areas – we had to, to complete our objectives – but little did we know that we’d also maxed out the entire game.

Garden Life A Cozy Simulator Review 3
ALL THE PLANTS

‘Seeing everything in the opening couple of hours’ is a common theme. You can buy twenty or so flowers from the start. We imagined a greater number of flowers dropping in over time, unlocking as we progressed, but this never happened. Instead, purple seeds pop out from your flowers on occasion, and they give you colour variants of what you already have. Rainbow tulips, purple roses and more become available, inevitably with slightly larger sell prices. But colour-variants weren’t enough for us: we wanted to be farming differently, trying out new genuses. But we were just moving through the rainbow. 

We still enjoyed Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator – don’t get us wrong. But we didn’t feel like we £34.99 enjoyed it. We were manufacturing our own interest: trying to find every plant type to gain an achievement, stocking up on piles of jasmine to complete a statue. We’d given up on the tasks, which were clearly randomly generated and seemed to be less efficient than selling at the stall. Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator is a game where the progression systems are intricate and span miles in front of you, but the actual content to fill those systems? It’s somewhat threadbare. With time, we suspect Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator will grow a bit. The day-one DLC already offers more flowers, which we got grumbly about and wished was in the (slightly expensive) main game. 

In a way, Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator feels like a small flower that’s been given the best soil, the biggest pot and plenty of love, but it’s too tiny and too dainty to make use of that space. It’s a bedding plant that needs more around it to really flourish. As it stands, it feels lonely. 

We’re planning to come back to Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator in a few months. By then, we hope for more stuff to dig a trowel into. Because we really want to get cozy with it: it just doesn’t have enough substance to lose ourselves for days on end.

SUMMARY

Pros:
  • Gorgeously presented
  • The farming loops are so addictive
  • So many progression systems to work towards
Cons:
  • Plant limits are overbearing
  • Not enough stuff to do to make progression worthwhile
  • Some iffy usability issues
Info:
  • Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Nacon
  • Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC
  • Release date and price -22 February 2024 | £34.99
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<b>Pros:</b> <ul> <li>Gorgeously presented</li> <li>The farming loops are so addictive</li> <li>So many progression systems to work towards</li> </ul> <b>Cons:</b> <ul> <li>Plant limits are overbearing</li> <li>Not enough stuff to do to make progression worthwhile</li> <li>Some iffy usability issues</li> </ul> <b>Info:</b> <ul> <li>Massive thanks for the free copy of the game, Nacon</li> <li>Formats - Xbox Series X|S (review), Xbox One, PS4, PS5, PC <li>Release date and price -22 February 2024 | £34.99</li> </ul>Garden Life: A Cozy Simulator Review
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