Thanks to Aksys Games for the review code
Title: Cuddly Forest Friends
System: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: 02/03/2022
In this adorable game, you must help the cuddly forest friends plant a seed of happiness and take great care of it, ensuring they all enjoy a happy life in the forest while working to improve the tree’s health. Pretty adorable for a setup, though unfortunately the game makes you go through a very boring, 15 minute tutorial before you gain the freedom to play around and do things by your own accord.
Part of a series in Japan known as Gesshizu, Cuddly Forest Friends is quite a stunning looking game on Switch. It doesn’t have anything in-depth or major in scope, but what’s here is very well presented, with great looking models that fit well with the backgrounds to the point it feels as if they’re from a children’s book, all locked at a consistent 30FPS, that barely, if ever budged from my experience with the game. Both handheld and docked mode look rather sharp, leading to an adorable looking experience that runs great on both ends.
The music and sound is pretty decent too. Obviously, you aren’t going to get any intense songs or hard rock jams during such a cute game, but the songs you do have here fit the whimsical, cheerful nature of the game, and all the animals make cute noises when you interact with them.
Cuddly Forest Friends starts off with explaining the goal of growing the Tree of Happiness, and does this by guiding you through a tutorial on every aspect of raising each of the animals that live nearby, step by step. I’m not exaggerating when I say this tutorial is at least 15 minutes long, and is utterly boring and slow every second of the way, to the point I can’t even imagine a 4 year old enjoying it. Every single step is guided, and every aspect is taught to you in such a boring fashion, that when the game finally lifts the shackles and you’re free to play around as you please, it feels like a miracle.
Thankfully, being able to play at your own pace shows that Cuddly Forest Friends is a rather charming time. Basically, each action you do with the animal friends works towards giving the Tree of Happiness just a bit more care to growing to the next step of evolution. Whether that’s sending a group of friends to build an item with materials they gathered, giving care to a particular friend by feeding them, or playing a minigame against the CPUs, it leads to a pretty casual loop before the in-game day ends and it begins anew. You’re pretty much free to goof around and focus on the animals you particularly care for the most, but eventually they’ll be full and satisfied and it’s more advised to give everyone who needs attention the amount they need. It works out as a simple, yet adorable experience all around, and working to build up the tree is a chill experience.
The Minigames are easily the most game-like aspect of this entire package, and they’re pretty average at the end of the day. You don’t have too many available from the onset, and unlock more by collecting stamps over the course of the game, and they’re very basic. Whether it’s a button mashing game to run a race, timing a swing of a hammer to knock a tower down first, or getting more honey than the other players without angering the bees, these are quick enough to be amusing and don’t overstay their welcome, leading to a nice break in the flow until they start repeating, which they will do a lot, even as you unlock more. You also can’t just go straight into one when the day begins, as you must wait until the end of an in-game day after doing other tasks to play with the CPU.
However, the main menu of the game allows you to play all the minigames from the getgo with a group of up to four players, though in a bizarre turn of events, you all have to use single joycons to play, even though the main game lets you play them solo with a dual joycon/pro controller setup. Thus, motion gimmicks are part of some minigames, and while they don’t impede the experience, it definitely feels incredibly strange to not allow more control options.
Still, you have three ways of playing these minigames with friends here, ranging from freely picking your favorites outright, a fun acorn competition where the first to win four minigames wins the contest, and an interesting panel mode where each player who wins claims a panel on the board for points, and can flip over other player panels Othello style. Having a friend over to try these all with me, the panel mode was definitely the highlight, even though the length of the games can drag a bit, especially since it doesn’t automatically end if the game becomes impossible for the other players to win, and you’ll pretty much see every minigame in this set after just one session, which is a bummer. More customization options for the party games would have been very appreciated, and unfortunately none of these modes work towards the Tree of Happiness in the main game due to being separate. Still a fun distraction and a great way for the family to get involved if they pick it up for their kid/animal lover.
In conclusion, Cuddly Forest Friends is an adorable game that serves a decent job at being a relaxing experience to goof around in, with a multiplayer minigame mode that is decent fun at first, but dries up quickly due to the slim options. Raising the animals and playing with your favorites is a fun time, and the core gameplay loop is perfect for pick up and play purposes, but the game definitely has a lot of repetition standing in the way of being a truly good experience for all ages, especially with that insanely long guided tutorial I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
The lack of touch screen options is also a curious exclusion, especially considering how much this game uses a virtual cursor. Add other odd choices such as forcing individual joycons in multiplayer modes, and Cuddly Forest Friends is an odd, yet charming experience. It isn’t a bad game by any means, and once you get past the tutorial growing pains, it’s a cute game that kids and animal lovers wanting a game to go “aw” to will definitely enjoy, but I definitely feel the pacing could have been smoothed out just a little bit to make this a more easygoing experience. Still, I liked this one decently enough and I do hope other games in this franchise get brought to the west, since these creatures appear in other games overseas, and this is a fine western debut for them.
I give Cuddly Forest Friends a 6 out of 10.