With the immense popularity of games like Animal Crossing, Stardew Valley and Harvest Moon, alongside hidden gems like Grow: Song of the Evertree, cozy games are a genre that always stays in style, and why not? There is something undeniably satisfying about curling up on the sofa after a long day of work and losing yourself in a world without deadlines or high stakes, and the Nintendo Switch has always been my go-to platform for these types of games.
As a relaxing simulation game that allows you to befriend and care for nine forest creatures, Cuddly Forest Friends falls firmly into the aforementioned category. After initially releasing in Japan back in 2020 under the name Gesshizu: Mori no Chiisana Nakama-tachi, Cuddly Forest Friends has finally made its way over to the West for a larger audience to appreciate.
I want to start by saying how well the game is presented. It’s bright, cute, and the music is nice and soothing. Putting it simply, it’s pretty much everything you’d want and expect from a game called Cuddly Forest Friends.
There isn’t an awful amount to talk about when it comes to the story, but that is fairly common with games like this. It has a simple enough premise where the main aim of the game is to cultivate the Tree of Happiness that lies within the forest by collecting ‘happy feelings’. You can do this by interacting with and caring for your animal friends. It’s a little repetitive, but the game follows the same basic gameplay loop.
Gather, Craft and Play
At the beginning of each day, you’ll be given a couple of requests for things that your animal friends want you to create for them, be it food, decorations, or accessories. You will then send your animals off to gather resources from a variety of locations while cheering them on by mashing A. If you have enough materials, you can then craft the requested items, which will lead to an increase in happiness and further the bond between yourself and your friends.
After gathering and crafting, your friends will want to play, and you’ll have the choice of four mini-games that change with each in-game day. Some of these mini-games come with the added bonus of offering double happiness or stamps, the latter of which allows you to unlock additional mini-games when you gather enough of them. After choosing a game, you pick one animal to play as and compete against three others. On the surface, there seems to be a nice variety of mini-games, but you’ll soon find that they are all very similar, and with limited controls, they are far from challenging. Chances are you’ll get bored pretty quickly during long gaming sessions.
Bond with Your Forest Friends
You’ll then have the rest of the day, which is not linked to real-time, to spend with your forest creatures. You can interact with them and decorate your forest with items you’ve crafted. Unfortunately, the ability to customise your forest is fairly limited as there are only a handful of slots in which to place these decorative pieces. It’s a shame, really, because the beauty of a game like Animal Crossing is the ability to freely decorate your island, so I was a little disappointed this wasn’t implemented more effectively.
When interacting with your animal friends, there are four stat bars to be aware of. These are hunger, individual happiness, friendship level, and of course, the overall happiness level of the forest. Feeding your friends their favourite foods, completing tasks for them, and petting them all boost these stats and help you grow the happiness tree.
As your friendship level with each creature increases, you’ll find out new things about them, like their favourite food, what they’re good at, and more. This allows you to more effectively plan where you want to station each of them, though if I’m being honest, I didn’t notice that much difference when placing them in their preferred areas.
After a period of interacting with the forest creatures, it’s time for bed, and the whole thing starts all over again.
To me, the main downside of Cuddly Forest Friends was its lack of variation. From the mini-games to the daily requests, everything is just so repetitive. I’ve lost count of how many times different creatures asked me for the exact same accessory, meaning that all I had to do to complete the request was equip it and boom: instant happiness points.
Its rigid gameplay loop meant that there was very little variation, and outside of cheering them on, your forest friends do most of the work when it comes to gathering and crafting. When I play a game, I want to immerse myself, but with Cuddly Forest Friends, having the animals do everything just made me feel a little disconnected. Admittedly, as you grow the happiness tree, you unlock more areas of the forest, and collecting stamps from completing mini-games allows you to unlock more games, but these are just more of the same, so there just wasn’t enough to keep me occupied for more than an hour or so at a time.
That said, Cuddly Forest Friends is a heartwarming experience with a cutesy aesthetic that will appeal to fans of the cosy game genre. It’s a relaxing game that is great to unwind to in short bursts, and it will probably be a hit with younger audiences. Unfortunately, its repetitive gameplay loop and overall lack of content mean that it’s unlikely to keep the attention of the average gamer for very long. There is no denying that it has a lot of charm, but for the price, it fell a little short for me.
Developer: Nippon Columbia
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 2nd February 2023
Gaming Respawn’s copy of Cuddly Forest Friends was provided by the publisher.