Originally published at: Review | Cocoon - XboxEra
Cocoon – A puzzle game from the lead gameplay designer of Limbo and INSIDE. This fact alone was enough to get my attention (INSIDE is one of my favourite games of all time). Unlike those games though, this is not a 2D, single-plane puzzle platformer. No, this is a world inside another world within even more worlds, and is probably one of the best puzzle games I’ve played in ages.
He’s got the whole world, in his hands…
The premise (at least outwardly) of Cocoon is delightfully simple. You play as an un-named moth-man like creature, who is quite literally born into a desert like-world from a cocoon. The game begins teaching you its mechanics at just the right tempo as you grapple with lowering platforms, activating gates and so on. Everything in the game is achieved with just one button prompt on A, and there is zero narrative to sit through or UI of any kind – once you’re through the standard start menu, you are on your own.
Where Cocoon differs is that it takes place in not just one world, but across several. Throughout the game, you’ll encounter various orbs, each a visual microcosm of its landscape – an orange-hued desert, a lush, wet jungle, a decidedly alien environment and so on. It’s a game mechanic that is introduced gently, allowing the player to understand just how it all works. The orbs can be placed on to switches to activate machinery, but more importantly they can be activated on portals to allow the player to transition, seamlessly from one world to another. It is wonderfully slick, and the short animation that plays never got old.
Killed by the Guardians
Each world is guarded by a unique guardian, each one alien and insect like, from whirling cephalopods to multi-legged leviathans. These battles aren’t really combat based, but are again, puzzle like in their design. Even though the threat may seem palpable, it’s merely a pattern for the player to learn, anticipate and overcome. This one aspect is where the game slightly stumbles in my opinion – for lesser skilled players, there can be an element of trial and error to these battles, and having to start each one from the beginning can wear a little thin. However, the team at Geometric Interactive do their very best to teach you through animation, sound and gameplay just what each beastie is going to do, so you may feel very differently when you play.
Once you’ve defeated the guardian of each orb it imbues that orb with a unique ability – for example, carry the desert world on your back once you’ve seen it’s Guardian off, and it will reveal before unseen pathways of orange glass in other worlds. The green orb allows you to transition through vertical platforms that become solid or gas at the push of a button. And so on.
Go then. There are other worlds than these.
The real challenge though, is in the puzzles that grow and expand to take place across those several worlds all at once. These worlds all exist simultaneously, whether you’re in it or you carry it on your back, and actions in and through one world can and will effect the other. You can take worlds into other worlds, and the orbs will reflect just what is happening inside each of them with some neat visualisation.
It is deliciously fun to solve, and the eureka moment that comes from figuring out just what to do and how to do it is perfect – again, a testament to some impressively well thought out game design that successfully teaches the player everything they need to know to overcome, and cuts out all the noise.
Occasionally, you’ll need a little help from automated companions which act as both a guide to where you need to be, and as a key to unlock a door or enable machinery – one delightful little touch is that they buzz and chirp faster or slower to indicate whether you are near the right world or objective. Again, it’s subtle, but it really works to help the player remember the hierarchy of worlds that they can manipulate.
It’s all aided tremendously by an impeccably clean art-style of smooth lines, and bold bright colours, which is a quite a step away from the dual tones of Limbo and the dulled, desaturated world of INSIDE. It’s also got a lovely electronic/synth soundtrack, at times reminding me of John Carpenter’s “The Thing”.
The World is but a stage
It’s worth mentioning going in that there isn’t a huge amount to spoil here in terms of narrative, because strictly speaking, there isn’t one, at least in the traditional sense. There are no words, no dialogue to sit through, no audio logs to discover. There are however, many secrets – perhaps you can find them for yourself.
Who our moth-man protagonist is, and just why he is here is left to the player to figure out, much like the rules of the many worlds you will encounter throughout your time with Cocoon. Where INSIDE had us talking for weeks about that ending, the world of Cocoon is a little more vague, though the ending may incur similar discussion in and of itself.
Cocoon is an impeccably designed game that stands as a shining example of how this medium alone can teach mechanics and intent without saying or displaying a single word. Any players who prefer to solve problems with their brain and not a gun, should without delay, go forth and discover the many beautiful worlds of Cocoon. The choice, and indeed, the world(s), is in your hands.