While this is the debut game from Danish developer Geometric Interactive, Cocoon bears the unenviable weight of expectation thanks to game director Jeppe Carlsen’s previous work on the pair of impactful and evocative puzzle platformers, Limbo and Inside. Moving away from the monochromatic and melancholic and into an added third dimension was a risk, but it’s one that pays off in every conceivable way.
Without any context or prologue, we see a light fall from the sky, pierce a towering rock formation, and awaken a dormant cocoon, birthing a vibrantly coloured cicada-like creature into the world. This brief introduction to our winged protagonist is all the narrative explanation you’ll find, and you can expect a tutorial that’s just as in depth, because there isn’t one.
Every action, from the first moments to the final puzzle, are completed with just two controller inputs. You move with the left thumbstick and interact with X. That’s it. Limbo and Inside take place on a 2D plane, so the limited input makes sense as you start on the left and go to the right. In a three-dimensional space, I expected there to be more complexity required, but that’s not the case. The simplicity is beautiful— no words spoken, no prompts needed, just the prior knowledge of basic game mechanics and some curiosity.
All of the worlds feel alive, largely thanks to the incredible animations
In the opening area you’ll get to grips with interacting with the world by picking up and carrying orb-shaped items on your back. Performing simple actions like moving living platforms and shuttling items through tubes will acclimatize you with the basics before you have your reality shaken. A few moments later you’ll find a glowing white platform that, when interacted with, will see your little cicada thrust into the air and towards the camera, pulling them from the world you were just exploring. Now, in a completely new environment, you’ll see a glowing orange orb on a pedestal that contains the entire world you were just in. And, like any other item until this point, you can pick up this celestial body and strap it to your back.
The universe contained within this sphere is now used as a power source, to lift platforms, open doors and raise bridges. Puzzles using these cosmic batteries don’t waste any time before they start melting your brain. An early example of the game’s puzzle design brilliance has you avoiding a deadly sweeping obstacle by leaping out of the world and watching it pass, before re-entering the orb. More impressively, elements within a world can affect puzzles without, with the obstacles always retaining the visual design of the world that it belongs to. This causes you to think laterally instead of trying to brute force a solution with trial and error, completely mitigating the dreaded puzzle frustration.
Every adventure in the enclosed universes culminates in an encounter with the world’s guardian. Each of these visually imposing bug-like behemoths have their own attack patterns that you’ll need to learn, and a method of defeating them that mirrors the mechanic that was introduced in the world they belong to. Still using a single button and a thumbstick, you’ll creatively vanquish the villains with explosive balls, orb-power projectiles, and water-powered jetpacks, and each feels as climatic as the last. These confrontations materialise just as the full potential of that area is realised, saving you from feeling fatigue toward any one mechanic.
The guardians are equally threatening and captivating
Besting the boss will imbue that world’s orb with a unique power that expands the breadth of the game’s puzzles. The inaugural orb will create a field around you that uncovers invisible paths, giving you access to previously inaccessible areas. Another gives you the ability to turn solid spires into liquid and back, effectively creating a natural elevator. Using these abilities to solve puzzles in multiple worlds simultaneously is innovative and unbelievably satisfying to crack. The complexity of the concept may sound daunting, but I never once felt overwhelmed or confused, instead I found myself being hit time after time with moments of clarity and realisation that were always followed by an incredible sense of satisfaction as the pieces fell into place.
Geometric Interactive displays such game design mastery that it could be confused for clairvoyance. Without being forceful or intrusive, the game effortlessly guides you from puzzle to puzzle with elegantly implemented world design and audio cues. Interacting with the orb needed to advance will rouse a quiet hymn, while subtle lighting prompts will gently shepherd you to the next challenge. Without any signposting or dialogue, my four-hour playthrough of Cocoon felt like one clean motion from beginning to end.
Every location sits at different points along the spectrum of natural and technological, with plenty of overlap seen as you explore. Each dimension feels otherworldly and alien, foreign, yet warm and oddly inviting. Each has its own colour palette, filled with bold, saturated hues derived from the orb it’s housed within. An arid desert complete with rich orange sandstone, a watery marsh that’s caught in a perpetual rainstorm and a technorganic labyrinth are all freely travelled between and are unique enough in their own right that you’ll always know exactly where you are.
There’s something almost terrifying about being such a small being in this huge, cosmic landscape
Grand ideas of creation and transformation are alluded to, but I’d be lying if I sat here and explained to you the inner workings of the game’s world and the narrative threads that hold it together, because I simply don’t know. I have a deep fondness for tales told in the absence of dialogue, but the threads are a little too loose to be fully appreciated here. The tales told in Limbo and Inside are largely left to interpretation, but they’ll undoubtedly make you feel, regardless of your level of understanding. Outside of some existential dread at the thought of the universe’s enormity, I can’t say that the same feelings were found here.
Certain games are so exceptional that when I try to explain to people why I loved playing it so much and why they should as well, my words fail me, and I end up gushing for minutes on end without really saying anything of substance. While I hope my written work conveys my thoughts more clearly, Cocoon is one such game, so I apologise if you strike up a conversation about it with me. A near-perfect example of level and game design that makes the player feel consistently clever without ever holding their hand, Cocoon is a landmark achievement in the genre that deserves a spot right beside the very best.
Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- Geometric Interactive
- Annapurna Interactive
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / Switch / PC
- September 29, 2023