A beetle protagonist emerges into a beautiful, lonely world. There’s no preamble, no text overlays; not even a hint of what you’re meant to do next. So, you walk. After finding your way to a small staircase, you descend, and the steps disappear into the ground — a silent cue that you’re on the right path. A few paces further, you discover a purple pad, and as you stand on it, your iridescent wings begin to quiver. Without thinking about it, you press a button on your controller, the pad turns green, and a nearby rock transforms into a new staircase. Progress!
After solving a couple of rudimentary puzzles, you’ll encounter an orb — these are the heart (and the body) of this game. You carry them on your beetle back, initially using them as keys to open doors and solve puzzles, before discovering that inside every orb is a new world of puzzles and challenges to overcome.
Cocoon is the first game from Geometric Interactive, a studio founded in 2016 by Jeppe Carlsen and Jakob Schmid. Both are alums of Playdead, the Danish studio behind Limbo and Inside, for which Carlsen worked as lead gameplay designer. If you’ve played either of those games, Cocoon’s quietly impressive intro may sound familiar. Both were side-scrolling puzzle-platformers that used their environments and challenges to simultaneously tell a story and guide their players. The story is much the same here, but Cocoon’s structure of layered, interconnected worlds showcases another level of maturity and artistry.
The game actually opens inside the orange orb, a gorgeous desert world, and expands out from there. Each world is protected by a guardian, which needs to be defeated in order to fully unlock the orb’s power outside of that world. Unlocking the orange orb, for example, allows you to walk on hidden paths while carrying it. Each orb grants its own powers, and all are critical to progression.
The guardians are the game’s “boss fights.” Though there is no traditional combat, each guardian is certainly combative, and there is a degree of skill and timing required to best them. One of the later encounters did actually trip me up a few times, which is as good a time as any to mention that Cocoon has absolutely no fail state. Getting tagged by a guardian doesn’t hurt, they merely throw you outside of their orb — hop back in and you’ll return to the encounter within a couple of seconds. Likewise, you can’t mess a puzzle up to the point that you need to reload.
In isolation, the guardians are probably the game’s weakest moments, but they do provide a nice break from the puzzle-solving alongside a bit of visual spectacle. This is broadly a beautiful game to see and hear, full of bright pastel hues and beds of synth pads, and in places it’s surprisingly gross. What starts as a tranquil walk through something approximating the American Southwest quickly devolves into goopy bio-horror, and I’m very here for it. I started playing the game on a little Ayaneo handheld PC, but about quarter-way through moved over to the Xbox — while it’s a fun thing to play on a portable, the art and sound design really does benefit from a big screen and some decent speakers or headphones.
I think the bigger screen actually helped me — though this is more a review of my eyesight than the game — solve puzzles faster. Toward the end of the game, you’ll find yourself truly disoriented as you jump in and out of worlds and portals, twisting the game’s logic on its head to progress. I feel like I would’ve missed some of the environmental cues — again, my old eyes — had I been playing on a 6-inch screen.
I only truly got stuck once, when I spent an hour wandering around, trying to figure out what exactly I had to do to solve a puzzle. (The answer, as you’d expect, was blindingly obvious.) Cocoon doesn’t hold your hand, but it is a helicopter parent — in a good way! — gently hovering over you and pushing you in the right direction. There are environmental cues scattered around, and you’ll notice throughout that gates shut behind you at key moments. This prevented me from trying to double-back to see if I’d missed something, an activity that represents half of my playtime in similar games. Subtly locking you in an environment is the game’s way of saying “you have everything needed to progress, so stop being so dense and figure it out.”
Cocoon is a game I can (and will) recommend to anyone that plays video games, and plenty who don’t. Perhaps my only complaint is that I want more. The game only actually introduces, to my count, six core mechanics, and each of those are mixed, matched and remixed in truly creative ways. I appreciate a game being as long as its developer wants it to be, but the bones here are so good, so satisfying, that I can’t help feeling it can hold up to more orbs, more puzzles.
That said, the seven hours or so I spent with Cocoon are among the most memorable of this decade, and I’ll definitely be returning to it in a couple of years, once my brain has purged all of the answers to its puzzles.