There’s something about Jeppe Carlsen’s games that just hit differently. The former Playdead developer’s previous works, Limbo and Insidewere brilliant 2.5D puzzle-platformers that had players exploring rich and mysterious monochromatic worlds. That mix of ambiguous storytelling, tight mechanics, strong art direction and well-designed puzzles is quite unlike anything else, and it yielded the two games many much-deserved awards.
Now, Carlsen has done it again with his new game, Geometric Interactive’s Cocoonwhich adopts similar design philosophies but throws in several clever twists. This time around, the world is displayed isometrically, immediately opening up the environmental and puzzle design.
It’s also a shift to full-on sci-fi, as players control a cicada-esque winged creature that awakens in a barren wasteland with an unknown purpose. It’s all as cryptic and dialogue-free as Carlsen’s previous works, which might put off people looking for something a little more narrative-heavy. But as long as you go in not expecting a traditional story, you’ll absolutely enjoy the roughly five-hour experience.
That starts with the aforementioned sci-fi framework which, when coupled with the wider perspective, allows Geometric to create some truly engrossing environments that juxtapose pristine alien structures with more grounded and eerie outdoor canyons, marshes and more. It’s a world that feels textured and lived in, even if you don’t quite know much about it.
Further deepening everything is the core puzzle gameplay. On a base level, the controls are simple — you rotate the analogue stick for movement and press the bottom face button to interact. That said, that simplicity belies Cocoon‘s larger complexity.
As you traverse, you’ll find mysterious orbs that can be used to operate machinery like lifts and platforms. Orbs come in different colours, too, like an orange one that reveals hidden walkways or a green one that raises — or collapses — makeshift aquatic elevators.
But these orbs also serve as worlds unto themselves when inserted into special constructs surrounded by pools of water. Upon doing so, the water’s reflection portrays a new area into which you can dive, like a forest through the green orb. This means that you’ll often have to alternate between the orbs to progress, placing one in the pool to zip to one area, progress a bit, jump back to the pool hub, and swap.
It may sound complex on paper, but the game smartly funnels you on the correct path through barriers and other obstacles blocking off currently inaccessible areas. This puts the focus squarely on solving the puzzles at hand. Admittedly, some of these are frustratingly obtuse, while the odd one that requires you to run back and forth to reveal and remember specific patterns for switches is a bit tedious. On the whole, though, the puzzles are well-designed and sufficiently challenging.
There are also boss fights to bookend each new area that are equally effective. Without a proper attack option, you have to focus on avoiding areas until you can access an object, like a jellyfish-like creature, to jet stream upwards before ground-pounding your foe. They’re also graciously short enough encounters that it doesn’t feel punishing if you die, which adds to the game’s overall low-pressure vibe.
2023 has been an absolutely crazy year for game releases, particularly when it comes to big titles like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Baldur’s Gate 3 and Starfield. If anything, though, that only makes something like Cocoon all the more noteworthy. Here is a game that’s the epitome of quality over quantity, a tight and thoughtful journey that respects your time and intelligence with immaculate world and puzzle design. What’s more, its simplistic control scheme means it’s approachable for a wide range of gamers.
Whether you’ve played Limbo and/or Inside or just want a refreshingly unique experience, Cocoon is a must-play.
Cocoon is now available on PlayStation 4/5, Xbox Series X/S (plus Game Pass), Xbox One, Nintendo Switch and PC.
Image credit: Annapurna Interactive