I didn’t have an appointment to play Cocoon at Summr Game Fest Play Days. I didn’t even know what the game was until I showed up early and played it before my next appointment. And in the time I spent with it, Cocoon became a showstopper. Of the indie games I played, it sucked me in, so much so that the developers stepped in to let me know my time was up. Developed by Geometric Interactive and published by Anapurna Interactive, Cocoon is an adventure puzzle game. Geometric Interactive is led by founders Jeppe Carlsen, the lead gameplay designer of LIMBO, and award-winning programmer/composer Jakob Schmid—and it shows.
With a stunning score and immersively intuitive puzzles, Cocoon pushes players to view the world they explore as an interactive experience. What can we interact with, move, open, close? What can we do to the world to solve its puzzles? The game takes you on an adventure across worlds within worlds, some of which you don’t complete before moving to the next, only to come back. In learning how to master the world-leaping mechanics, you will begin to unravel a cosmic mystery.
In my hands-on preview of the game, I got the chance to play a portion of this unique take on the puzzle adventure genre. As I traversed the biomechanical landscape, I found orbs, and in each orb was a new world. Each one offered different challenges while building on the puzzle mechanics I had begun to master in the previous one. This added to Cocoon’s immersive quality. Like a nesting doll that kept going, I found myself wanting to dig deeper into this biomechanical world of machinery in alien environments and biomechanical devices left behind by an ancient civilization, working to unravel the meaning of it all. In my playthrough alone, I played within multiple biomes, from desert to lush wetlands and even an industrial structure too. I got the chance to explore each as they all connect to each other.
The organic elements of Cocoon’s environments are fantastically rendered and wonderfully linked together mechanically. You interact with the land. Moving platforms suction onto movable mechanical orbs that pull them across the land. You use your weight and other environmental factors to trigger opening doors and bridges. You learn what the environment clues are, even if you don’t know what they are at first. As you come across orbs in the various worlds, you can unlock their abilities. Each one has an ability that can be unlocked in order to make it a unique tool for you to use in other worlds you find.
In my time with the game, I was blown away by the game’s detailed environmental design. With no UI, and no clear paths, the burden of telling the player what to do and how to do it lies in designing the environments in such a way that intuition kicks in. Maintaining difficulty by not painting something bright red; instead, the developers make different elements in Cocoon’s world stand out without becoming a neon sign of interaction. You need to put clues together yourself.
In one puzzle, there were movable plaques in the ground. Each one, when turned, made a sound. Prior to this puzzle, turning earlier plaques would trigger an event and an opening, but here, nothing happened. With no clear sign of what to do next and never having encountered the puzzle type in this iteration before, I just ran around. Back and forth, interacting with them until I finally noticed a path on the ground that indicated I could move an object across it. In doing that, I looked at that element of the screen in a new way, seeing a tower with the same symbols and realizing that as I drug the orb across the sand, I turned the tower.
Trusting your player to solve puzzles is one thing. Developing rich level designs that lock into intuition through exploration and trial and error is a whole other thing. It’s where Cocoon shines the brightest and what will keep me glued to the game for hours in a sitting when it comes out. The balance of beauty and functionality, intuitive puzzle design with difficult elements. All of that makes Cocoon a simple showstopper with so much to offer those who play it.