Review – Cocoon
I have to be honest, I wasn’t all that hyped up coming into Cocoon, despite loving LIMBO and Inside. The initial trailers intrigued me, but the setting wasn’t quite grabbing me like their last games. I say their last games, despite Cocoon being Geometric Interactive’s first game, because this is the studio created by former Playdead employees who made Inside and LIMBO. While I may not have been hyped for Cocoon, I still had high expectations based on the pedigree of the studio, and of course they completely nailed their first outing. Nailed it so much that this is my first 10 out of 10 review I have given. You can read the rest of my review, but I can save you time and tell you to just go play it.
You still with me? Well then lets go on this strange cosmic adventure together. Cocoon begins with a bolt of electricity striking the top of a mountain sending a surging energy blast through it causing a cocoon to open up revealing our cicada looking protagonist. Keeping with a similar style to their previous games, Cocoon doesn’t offer much in the way of traditional storytelling. Instead, it wants to deliver bits of story through world building and its environments, which leads me to really my only gripe about it.
You’re going to have to bear with me through more LIMBO and Inside comparisons because they’re really the only games to compare this to (Silt also comes to mind). In these games they also used a non-traditional way of storytelling, and painted a picture through its environments where the player can build the story for themselves. Cocoon does some of that, but just not quite as well. With the previous games there were parts where the game pushes you forward with bits of story, introducing characters or environments that slowly revealed what was going on and gave you motivation to keep going with a clearer goal. Cocoon just drops you into its world and there is really nothing moving you forward other than the players own desire to experience the next puzzle.
For example, in Inside from the beginning you are running from something, hiding from people, you make your way into the factory and have to survive while trying to shut it down and escape. There is a progression of story beats and environments that you can follow and try and understand. Cocoon doesn’t do this as well. There is no urgency in its story and there was a good portion of it where you question why you’re even doing this in the first place. It’s not to say there is no world building, but it doesn’t really make any sense until close to the end. My motivation was simply wanting to experience more of the puzzles designs than anything with the story. Without spoilers, I will say that it does have a good reveal at the end, however.
With my one gripe out of the way, I can now talk about all the things that I absolutely love about Cocoon. Featuring a single button design, the core gameplay is actually quite simple. On Xbox you basically tap A or hold A to interact with everything. I didn’t mind this so much because it’s all about the depth of the puzzles more so than complex interactions. You see, the character has the ability to enter different worlds by setting that worlds globe on a machine and warping inside of it. You then can even bring the other globes inside different worlds. This sort of leads to an Inception styled design, with world layers lapping on top of one another, while using the powers of each world to advance. There is a touch of metroidvania in here, but without quite as much backtracking.
For example, you start the game in the desert world and will eventually fight a boss that will unlock that world’s ability. As you proceed, you eventually come to an agricultural world filled with lush ponds and forests, but you’ll need to use the deserts globe inside the agricultural world to complete the bridges. While this seems like a breeze for the first half of the game, it does ramp up on complexity quite a lot towards the end. Mixing up two worlds is fine and dandy, but when you need to layer four worlds on top of each other it can become complex.
There are puzzles later on where you’ll need to position a platform in the agricultural world in the right direction so you can use an energy blast in the spiritual world that goes through the desert world, into the agricultural world and activates a switch so you can proceed on a platform that activates in the life bearing world. There were quite a few of the puzzles where I had to bring my wife in to show her just how creative they got with some of these solutions. They can be difficult, but very rewarding when you get them.
The biggest thing to remember is that all the rules of the puzzles have to do with layering these worlds inside of each other. All of them stick to this principle and idea, and none of them make you have to backtrack a ton, since you’ll always need to have the correct globes with you in order to proceed. So there is no way that you’ll accidentally leave a globe behind in a world and have to go back looking for it. Once you understand the rules and even the restrictions in that design, the puzzle solutions start to make more sense.
The only combat in Cocoon is against the bosses, which there is one for each main world. Defeating the bosses is what will activate the worlds power. Each boss has their own unique abilities and ways you need to fight them, all of which still use the single button design. There is a new mechanic introduced for each fight and that is what you’ll need to use against the bosses to defeat them. One of them you may need to throw an explosive orb, or hover above and body slam them, or fly into a crystalized leg to destroy it. However, you’ll never need to jump worlds or do anything like that to defeat a boss.
These bosses add a bit of challenge to just the regular gameplay since it is one hit and you have to try again. What is neat, however, is that you don’t get a game over screen or even a loading screen at all. Essentially what happens is if the boss catches you, it throws you out of its world, and you’ll need to re-enter and get back to the arena. Luckily the place you re-enter is never far away since there is a checkpoint in front of the fights. I enjoyed this design since there is still a fail state for the boss, but it stays in theme and keeps you immersed.
Earlier I spoke about some of the worlds names being agricultural, spiritual, life bearing, but I just want to clarify that these aren’t the official names of these worlds, just something I noticed based on the fantastic art design and its own world building. In fact, the game doesn’t give you a name for these either, and I wasn’t able to really understand the individual worlds’ purposes until the end. Luckily, that doesn’t stop you from enjoying the fantastic art design for each world and their possible intentions. Cocoon’s design throughout is always a mixture of biological and mechanical advancements; everything is built with purpose for an end goal. It reminds me of what an insect colony is like with different roles and no fluff in design because their existence to thrive and grow.
The art style itself is fairly simplistic and doesn’t offer any complex texture work at all. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a ton of detail put into each and every bit of the game. The level design is fantastic, especially when you get into more of the biological levels with tissue, and organs, and sacks lining the levels. Not to mention the wonderful background details that really help offer you the scope of these worlds even if you’re contained to smaller areas. Couple that with the exquisite use of a wide color pallet for each world and how everything pops off the screen beautifully. Cocoon is a vividly striking game.
Sound design is equally as well done as the art design, offering a wide range of emotions and tones for each level and boss fight. At times it can be more pulled back while you’re trying to solve puzzles, only offering some ambient mood music, and a light twinkling jingle when you complete a puzzle. It’s a subtle queue, but it instills a happiness when you hear it. Then as you’re ramping up to a boss fight or a reveal of a large area you’re hit with some synthwave music that increases the heart rate and anticipate of what is next. All around I really enjoyed the sound design of everything from the light dust in the wind in the desert to the relaxing sounds of the waterfalls in the agricultural world.
Cocoon was an utter delight to play and a shining example of what the indie scene can provide in creativity. While it didn’t have the level driven purpose of LIMBO or Inside, it more than made up for it with its smart puzzle design. It doesn’t treat you like you’re stupid, and expects you to have to really think, but it also doesn’t throw obtuse puzzles at you. This is absolutely a must-play game for anyone looking for a unique puzzle experience.
A simplistic art design without textures, but with a beautifully realized art direction and use of color.
Simple core gameplay that leaves plenty of space for its puzzles to shine.
Impressive sound design that ranges from intense synthwave tones to the subtle queues that you completed something.
While the draw here is the smart puzzle design, I do wish Cocoon offered more purpose for the character in the early parts.
Final Verdict: 10
Cocoon is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X|S, PlayStation 5, Nintendo Switch, and PC.
Reviewed on Xbox Series X.
A copy of Cocoon was provided by the publisher.