Cozy Grove: Camp Spirit is a better, faster version of the lo-fi life sim

My campsite in Cozy Grove: Camp Spirit shows Flamey at the center, a tent, and several furniture items like chairs, tables, and rugs.
Image: Spry Fox/Netflix via Polygon

The sequel is only on mobile and exclusive to Netflix

When Spry Fox co-founder and studio director David Edery and his team set out to make a second Cozy Grove game, they wanted to mirror the first game, but “bigger and better.” The concept of the original game and its new sequel, Cozy Grove: Camp Spirit, is simple: Each day, you check in on the bear spirits at camp, helping them accomplish tasks in exchange for wares and spirit logs, which feed and grow your fire, Flamey.

When Flamey eats enough logs, new areas of the island get unlocked, with new spirits that reside there. Each day, you help the spirits return color to their sections of the map, learning stories of their living days as you go. Interactive elements like piles of leaves, fish, and bugs are randomly regenerated on the map, making the same areas intriguing to explore even after months of playing.

And if the satisfying task completion and foraging isn’t enough to hook you, the story likely will be. As a human camper from another realm, the player is in a unique position to help the ghostly bears, who share very human stories of loss, regret, and fear. Their tales are written in quippy dialogue that only serves to further endear them to you — and that’s to say nothing of the sweet symbolism of how they’re illustrated, molded into cubic shapes and blended with items from their past lives.

A screenshot from Cozy Grove: Camp Spirit shows Flamey in blue and purple, saying “You’ve fed me well, friend. The shadowy branches shrink away as my light spreads eastward.”
Image: Spry Fox/Netflix via Polygon

As Edery said at a presser for Cozy Grove: Camp Spirit, the games aren’t necessarily for children. In the new game, developed by Spry Fox and published by Netflix, one NPC shares about their struggle to communicate with their immigrant mother who speaks a different language. Another navigates a deep betrayal by their business partner.

The gameplay is much the same between the two games, though Camp Spirit incorporates lots of new elements and minigames like hosing down dirty buildings — and Edery said the studio plans to continue updating Camp Spirit as it learns more about how people are playing the game. (It has no plans to keep the original Cozy Grove updated at the moment, for the record.)

Bunch says “Will you look at that! The picture of my past is starting to come together.”
Image: Spry Fox/Netflix via Polygon
Bunch shares about their past.

Spry Fox certainly accomplished what it set out to do by expanding the game while also fixing some quirks of the original engine that led to limitations and bugs. Camp Spirit includes several buildings, for instance — not just your own tent, which was the only interior in Cozy Grove.

“By taking the time to rebuild major parts of the Cozy Grove codebase, we unlocked the ability to add more interior spaces and even whole new islands to the game, should we choose to do so,” Edery wrote in an email to Polygon. Those interiors, like the inside of Orsina’s caves or the packed-up remnants of Kumari’s failed business, leave room for novel illustrations that you wouldn’t see in the rest of the game, which is set outside.

Kumari stands inside her business, which is inside of a tree trunk. Cardboard boxes and a conveyor belt decorate the room.
Image: Spry Fox/Netflix via Polygon
The inside of Kumari’s business.

The revamped code also allows for something Cozy Grove players have wanted for years: multiplayer. While I wasn’t able to test multiplayer before launch, the game introduced me to the mechanics via NPCs. Players will be able to see their friends on their islands asynchronously (as in, you can collaborate with them to forage better items at any time, not only when the other player is online).

There are still a few of those small glitches that occurred in the original game, like the occasional frame skip. But the main problem with Cozy Grove: Camp Spirit has nothing to do with the game at all — it’s about the platform and publisher.

The only way to play Cozy Grove: Camp Spirit currently is by downloading the game on your app store and logging into your Netflix account when the app launches. If you don’t subscribe to Netflix, you can’t play the game.

It’s unhelpful to criticize Spry Fox for any of this — Netflix acquired the studio outright in October 2022 — and Edery described the relationship as “a safe harbor in the storm” of the current games industry. According to Edery, the Netflix deal meant the devs and designers didn’t have to worry much about things like marketing the game — a huge win for what was once a small indie game.

But the way Netflix has decided to launch the game means that it’s currently only available on mobile (iOS and Android). To play Cozy Grove: Camp Spirit, you must first download the Netflix app and log in. Then, go to games, click on Camp Spirit, and download the game, where you’ll log in to Netflix once more.

I tested Camp Spirit on my iPhone 15, using my touchscreen as my controller. It’s often fine. It’s also often cramped, if not occasionally frustrating. My finger covers up the grid when I use Decoration Mode to place items, and the UI overlaps with itself during certain actions, I assume due to the size of my screen.

Cozy Grove: Camp Spirit UI shows the backpack open and a mole taco graphic overlapping with the task management bar.
Image: Spry Fox/Netflix via Polygon
The UI gets crowded during certain actions, like learning a new crafting recipe.

The optional zoomed-out view makes this a bit better when you’re traversing your island, but it irks me that I couldn’t choose from the beginning to start my game on Steam for bigger screen real estate and WASD controls. (For what it’s worth, that’s coming from someone who plays mobile games daily.)

“I can say that we definitely want Cozy Grove to be available on all the platforms that Netflix is, which of course, long-term, includes TVs and PCs/Macs,” Edery told Polygon.

In terms of input, you can play with any controller compatible with your mobile device, or even an Apple Pencil, according to Edery. In the past, Polygon reporter Nicole Carpenter has posited that the original game was actually better on mobile, and Edery said the numbers back that up: “Given how well Cozy Grove did on Apple Arcade, my guess is that quite a lot of people are going to prefer playing with touch on a phone.”

Those gripes aside, I can’t stress enough that if you already have a Netflix account, you’re going to want to play this game. The grind-to-fun ratio is excellent, and there’s so little pressure to log in that it actually motivates me to log in more — I’m simply thinking about my bears organically, rather than stressing about whether I’ll finish every daily task before the end of the day.

In that sense, mobile is a fitting platform for Camp Spirit, because the game isn’t meant to take up hours upon hours of your life (try me, Spry Fox). “We’re a game that folds into your life — you have a lot of other obligations,” lead designer Alicia Fortier said during the Camp Spirit press event.

Rather than playing on your starved dopamine receptors like tons of other mobile games do, Camp Spirit isn’t so desperate for your attention. The feeling I get while playing the game, whether I’m standing still and listening to the music while I write game reviews or hunting feverishly for a lost item I’ve been looking for all day, is that the island exists whether I’m there or not — but the bears really like it when I’m there.

Cozy Grove: Camp Spirit was released June 25 on Android and iOS. The game was played on iOS using a pre-release download code provided by Spry Fox. 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.

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