What the heck is a Strand Game? If you break down the core elements of what Death Stranding does that sets it apart from every other adventure, it’s about expansion, connection, and building a network of bonds out of a broken or empty world. Death Stranding Director’s Cut came out again in 2021, and it almost took this award again. However, against all odds, there was another game that fit this category and brought its own lovely spice to what we consider the Strand style of game. This time, it goes to Cozy Grove by Spry Fox.
Cozy Grove is a game in which you are a Spirit Scout that arrives on an island in which you cannot freely leave. Setting up your campsite, the island is originally quite small and limited, but by interacting with soul fire known as Flamey, you learn that it is the resting place of various ghosts (cutely fashioned as various bears). It is by increasing Flamey’s power that you gain the chance to interact with these ghosts and it is there that you learn that each of them has something they’ve forgotten which is holding them back from moving on.
What follows is a daily adventure in which you talk to these ghosts, learn more about them, help them with their woes, and uncover little bits and pieces of their lives before. By aiding them, you build bonds with them and gain more spirit power for Flamey, and by increasing Flamey’s power, you expand the island, the ghosts you’ll meet, and the ways in which you can help them.
Cozy Grove is a game of incremental bonds, relationships, memories, and expansion, and it’s further assisted by the fact that you cannot do it all in one marathon. The game only allows you to take up so many tasks in a day and then you must wait till the next to pursue a fresh batch of tasks again. Meanwhile, you build up your campsite, add light and life to the world around you, and even tend to ghost pets that give you rewards for taking care of them.
However, at Cozy Grove’s core is connection, expansion, improvements, and bonds. You are putting a world and the lives of various spirits that have been splintered back together piece by piece, removing the fog and guiding them to the truth through their relationship with you, for better or worse. The Strand Game genre may be all kinds of quirky, but therein lays certain qualities that are hard to place anywhere else. Death Stranding informed these qualities. Cozy Grove represents them well, and for that, it carries the torch of Kojima’s original genre onward as the Shacknews Best Strand Game of 2021.