When I heard Jeppe Carlsen, former Playdead gameplay designer, was working on something new with a fresh crew at Geometric Interactive, I was excited to see what Cocoon had in store for us. Less graphic than Limbo and Inside, Cocoon is more ambient and chill, but retains Carlsen’s excellent puzzle designs. This is a layered adventure where you take worlds in your hands, and venture inside other worlds, solving puzzles and opening paths forward in the most mesmerizing ways. It might be one of my favorite puzzle adventures I’ve played in a long time.
Much like Carlsen’s previous games, Cocoon doesn’t spend a lot of time telling you what it’s about. You’re a little fellow with bug-like wings wandering through alien worlds. It doesn’t take much more than that to send you off on your way. The interesting part? You find out pretty quickly that there are platforms that allow you to jump in and out of worlds. When you jump out of them into an overlying world, the world you left becomes an orb that you can pick up and carry. By discovering worlds within worlds, you find the means to open up new places to explore in the game, allowing you to discover more worlds and orbs as a result.
Cocoon’s characters aren’t voiced and it doesn’t have written dialogue. Instead, much of the story is told through action and the environments around you, and they are beautiful. Each world you visit has a vastly different vibe to it. There’s a desert world of rocky spires and dust, a verdant world of water and mist, and a fleshy world full of seemingly living structures, just to name a few. More than that, each world features a creature at the end that restricts that world’s use as an orb. If you defeat the creature, the world in orb form takes on a new ability that you can use elsewhere. More on that later.
Most importantly, Cocoon is an adventure of ambiance. The visuals are varied and gorgeous and the sounds do just enough to provide quirkiness to your adventure. I didn’t feel overwhelmed by the soundtrack and soundscape, but I did feel it wonderfully accompanied the implied storytelling and beautiful, yet lonely environments the game offered as I unraveled its mysteries.
What’s in a world?
As cool as the visuals and sounds are in Cocoon, a puzzle game is only truly as good as its puzzles. Thankfully, Cocoon excels here as well. As mentioned prior, it isn’t long before you discover you can leave worlds, turning them into orbs you can pick up and carry around. With a world orb, you can perform all sorts of shenanigans that will mostly consist of you discovering pedestals you can put them on to cause various effects. This might be like activating a bridge so you can cross or opening a dome that activates an exit pad for you to leave and enter that world. Most importantly, you often must figure out how to open a path forward while taking a world orb with you.
The basic setup of Cocoon’s puzzle just gets more complex and interesting as you carry on through the game. Recall where I said monsters inside the orbs block them from being used to their fullest. Defeat that monster and the world orb reaches its full potential. For the desert orb, this meant I could walk up to certain ending paths and create bridges of light to walk across as I held the orb. For the swamp orb, I could walk into misty pillars and make them solid, lifting me up while turning other, corresponding pillars to mist. Each orb offers a unique way to interact with the environment and the more you progress, the more the game asks you to mix and match the powers of these orbs in fascinating ways.
I truly enjoyed how intuitive Cocoon nearly always felt. Whenever I discovered the solution to a puzzle, I felt like the answer was staring me in the face just waiting to be seen. When I was stumped on a spot, I often just sat back and pondered new ways I could use the orbs I had at my disposal. The trickiest part of Cocoon is remembering that even as you go inside and outside orb worlds, you can pick up and take other orbs inside and outside those worlds as well.
For instance, one puzzle in the swamp world left gates in front of me between two world exit pads. I could walk through without an orb, but I couldn’t carry the desert orb through the gate, so I had to figure out what it wanted. It wasn’t long before I realized I could take the orb to the outer world, go back into the swamp world, go to the exit pad on the other side of the gate, exit there, and then bring the desert orb back into the swamp world, landing on the exit pad on the other side of the gate. This is just one simple example of many interesting designs throughout the game that are fun to unravel once you wrap your mind around how Cocoon wants you to think.
One of the very few things I’d take away from Cocoon is that as you progress through it, it gets exponentially harder to unravel what the game wants you to do. There are no hint systems, no deaths or game overs, and no dialogue to give you an idea of what you need to do next, so if you get stuck, you’re just stuck. I stand by what I said that the game does a mostly great job of putting the solution in front of you so it’s obvious once you know it. However, getting to a point where you have two or three orbs at your disposal means thinking what you can do with those orbs, their inner worlds, and their outer abilities at all times, and that can get unwieldy without any guidance.
What impressed me the most about Cocoon throughout much of the adventure was the sheer intuitive nature of its puzzle-solving. You might think that with no dialogue or hints, jumping into worlds within worlds and carrying them around would be hard to wrap your head around, but this game does an incredible job in its presentation, making you aware of what you can do and what you want to accomplish. Just as well, it’s a beautiful and ambient game that drew me into its mystery and made me want to unravel more through the sheer joy of cracking each layer and digging into another. The team at Geometric Interactive made something truly compelling, mind-bending, and immersive in Cocoon, and though it can prove difficult to handle all its tools, solving its mysteries is an absolute delight.
This review is based on a PC digital copy supplied by the publisher. Cocoon comes out on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, and PC on September 29, 2023.
- Immersive & intuitive puzzle design
- Beautiful & varied worlds
- Each world adds unique abilities
- Ambient soundtrack fits the journey's mood
- Exponentially complex as you add worlds
- No hint system
- No game overs mean if you're stuck, you're stuck