Jeppe Carlsen has a famed history in the indie game market. Some of the best indie games, Limbo and Inside, were actually created by him. Now that he’s on his own, can that magic happen again with a new team? That question gets answered in Cocoon, the new puzzle adventure game by Geometric Interactive and Annapurna Interactive. After beating its mesmerizing story, Cocoon may be better than what’s come before.
Cocoon‘s story isn’t really its main focus. Rather, its setting takes center stage. As the game starts, you wake up as a little winged bug in a mysterious desert. After some exploration, everything begins to make sense. That desert was all within an orb, and after escaping that orb, you begin to explore a new world. Which only asks more questions. Why were you in that orb? What is this world entirely? Those questions aren’t really answered, but that’s okay. What’s most important is the journey and every reveal that follows.
This game excels most at having you think outside the box without making you realize it. There are no easy puzzles. Yet, in that same vein, No puzzle is too difficult. There is no difficulty spike either. Geometric Interactive found the perfect balance of teaching you new mechanics and testing you to its max before introducing something new.
So how does this play out? Let’s take a step back to that first orb in question. That first orb, and all orbs that follow, has a special power. It can bring out bridges that are normally nonexistent. This leads to more discovery and more puzzles without really telling you what it can do. All you know is the orb got empowered after beating a boss. This happens several times throughout Cocoon’s story, where you know something has happened to the tools available to you, but you don’t know how they’ve changed. Only through context clues and discovery do all the pieces fall into place.
These abilities slowly build on top of each other, creating a more and more complex game at a brilliant pace. At one moment, you can only summon bridges in specific spots. Later, you get an orb that switches pillars between transparent and solid, propelling you to new platforms. A third lets you grab orbs from bulbs. Each of these orbs has its own world within it, adding layers on top of layers. Each introduction gives you a choice of how exactly you proceed without defining the direction.
Do you dive into an orb you already have to see how a new power can help you progress within it? Do you continue exploring the overworld to see where you can go next? Do you leave orbs behind within each other to set up potential moments later on while lugging them around? These orbs do have to be carried around, basically taking up an inventory slot and having you commit to one ability at a time. But the beauty of this is there is one correct option. You just need to find that path and eventual answer on your own. And then, without spoiling much, the game turns everything on its head. Breaking its own established rules while they continue to make sense in the game’s predefined universe. There are several of these moments that, if you’re like me, will leave your jaw on the ground.
These powers aren’t just presented to you right away. You need to earn it, done by defeating the area’s boss. Now, Cocoon has no major combat elements to the game. There are no enemies you have to face off against regularly while exploring its environments. So, how does it have boss battles?
These fights add to the genius of this game’s design. You aren’t thrown into the deep end when entering the boss’s arena. The fight doesn’t immediately begin. Instead, you just pick up a special orb located in that boss’s arena and see how exactly it affects you. This first one is like a water jet pack, pushing your little guy into the air, then with the press of the A button again, the orb gets tossed down to do some damage to the big bad. Then the fight begins.
These fights are one-hit-reset mechanics. If you mess up, the boss tosses you out, and you have to start over from the beginning. This can get annoying fairly quickly, yet thankfully, the fights never overstay their welcome. They just require you to adapt quickly or understand what exactly you did wrong to get through.
Then there are the Moon Ancestors, collectibles that are rewarded for going on a slightly different path. Every one of the Moon Ancestors is off the beaten path just slightly enough and requires either exploring every nook and cranny or being eagle-eyed. What’s nice is they never take too much time to get. Just a couple of minutes detour is all it normally takes, or thinking outside the box to get to areas with specially designed pillars that seem out of place whenever they appear. Simple, yet effective and rewarding for those who are looking for just a little extra out of this shorter game.
What ties all this together is its art design and music. A hauntingly melodic soundtrack that changes with each of the areas helps invest you into the world. Mixed with a top-down 3-D art style that invests a lot into a color style to help differentiate each area, it is beautifully done. Every area feels distinct, like its own universe, from environments to flora and fauna and the occasional creatures you stumble upon inhabiting those worlds. Some are creepier than others. Some are more peaceful than others. Plus, the aforementioned bosses fit really well in the areas they’re found in, too.
If you’re like me, you will not be able to put Cocoon down. Every step forward is followed by a “one more section” until you beat the whole thing. Where Cocoon shines is in its creativity. Bosses, level design, and use of puzzles, all through its use of orbs, are extremely fun. Plus, every section ends without overstaying its welcome. The true fun, though, is how the game never feels too difficult yet never tells you what to do. You earn every “a-ha” moment, and for that, Cocoon has raised the bar to be the best puzzle game of the modern generation.
The Cocoon game is available now on Xbox Series X/S, Xbox Game Pass, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, PC, and Nintendo Switch.
Where Cocoon shines is in its creativity. Bosses, level design, and use of puzzles, all through its use of orbs, are extremely fun. Plus, every section ends without overstaying its welcome.