Talk about having a ball!
Jeppe Carlsen and Jakob Schmid, a pair of Playdead staffers who helped create Limbo and Inside, decided to step away from their established success in order to go independent. Both Limbo and Inside are some of my favorite games in recent memory, which made me instantly curious to see what this twosome could do on their own.
The duo started a new studio called Geometric Interactive, and their first game was revealed to be the intriguing-looking Cocoon; a puzzler that puts you in control of a rather miniscule bug/human character. From the game’s 2022 debut trailer, I had an inkling the title would end up being something special. What I didn’t know was how big of an understatement my inclination would be.
There’s something to be said for a game that explores the intricate through simplicity. While Cocoon tackles some very big ideas in gameplay and story, it does so through very uncomplicated controls. In Cocoon, all you’ll ever need to use is one joystick to maneuver your character and one button to interact with items and the environment. You don’t even have to worry about camera control, as the game handles that for you. This breaks down pretty much every barrier there is between player and game, letting a player of any technical skill level experience what Cocoon has to offer.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum is the gameplay experience that Cocoon provides. While it might be easy to move about and perform tasks, the game constantly feeds you obstacles that will twist your mind in every which way. Cocoon starts off easy enough and never gets to a point where puzzles become obtuse or annoying, all thanks to a smooth ramping of difficulty. The level of puzzle-solving you tackle late in the game as compared to the game’s early moments is night and day, yet you’re still tackling tasks with the skills you learned in the opening moments. It’s a true testament to the dev team and the core concept they came up with, as Cocoon constantly reinvents and exploits its mechanics to surprise and delight.
Even more impressive is how Cocoon manages to make you feel like the smartest person in the world when working out its puzzles. On more than one occasion, you’ll be presented with a situation that seems downright impossible. I know I sat and stared at the screen for minutes on end in a few spots, trying to wrap my head around just what I could do to progress. Cocoon constantly forces you to see things in a new light and think outside the box. Those solutions might seem miles away at first, but eventually you’ll start to see the path ahead on the horizon. That’s what leads to the moment of spark; the instant where everything falls into place and you see an answer. Once you put your plan into action and arrive on the other side, that feeling of satisfaction is among the best I’ve gotten from a game.
That ‘wow’ moment of solving a puzzle is in Cocoon from the get-go, as the game is quick to impress you with its main hook. In Cocoon, you learn that you literally have the ability to carry an entire world in the palm of your hands. These worlds are represented as orbs that the main character can carry around, and you’ll be dragging them with you everywhere you go. Sometimes you use these orbs to activate buttons or platforms, and other times you’ll place them on special pedestals and dive inside. Can’t see the way ahead in the world you’re standing in? Carry one of your orbs over to a pedestal and travel to a completely different world in an instant.
For me, the idea of carrying around a playable space with me was absolutely mind-blowing. There are thousands, if not millions of games out there, but I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything quite like Cocoon’s world-in-a-world take. Cocoon makes you feel like you’re doing something that shouldn’t be possible in a game, creating moments that lead to wide-eyed amazement and bewildering conundrums. When you start throwing in multiple orbs/worlds and characteristics specific to each orb, like an orb that illuminates invisible platforms or one that makes platforms disappear/reappear, you can see just how deep and nuanced the puzzles in Cocoon can be.
The second half of Cocoon really cranks the dial on inventive puzzles, and I was constantly next-level impressed with what the developers came up with. I honestly cannot begin to fathom how a game like this is made, or quite frankly, how scary-smart the developers have to be to build it. Cocoon seems like an absolute nightmare project from a development standpoint, but thankfully I’m 100% on the player side of things. I just get to explore what they’ve created and live in awe afterwards.
There are so many puzzles and setups in Cocoon that I want to scream about from the rooftops, but that’s a selfish desire. I’d hate to ruin the moments of discovery a player gets while working through Cocoon, so I’ll keep them to myself. I will say that time and time again, I was left with my mouth agape as I worked my way through the game. Call it hyperbole all you want, but Cocoon is a staggering achievement for puzzle games in general and games as a whole. This seems like it could be a case study in pitch-perfect game design, as there has to be an invaluable amount both newcomer devs and veterans alike could take from it.
Cocoon equally wows from a technical standpoint as well. Again, I have no clue how this game was created, but something about worlds in worlds and pocket universes makes it seem like this title would have no shot running on Switch. Somehow Geometric Interactive pulled it off though, and the experience is mostly solid start to finish. There are some areas where the game chugs for a bit, but nothing that ruined the experience. I did have one instance where I jumped out of one world to a higher level and the framerate tanked to the single digits. Things sorted themselves out a few seconds later, and all was well from there forward. By and large though, the game runs very respectably on Switch, and I’d imagine a patch down the road could clean up the troublesome spots.
Where Cocoon really sings no matter what platform you’re playing on is the presentation. The game uses a gorgeous flat-shaded polygon style that looks truly beautiful. This is one of those games where every single screen or moment could be a painting. The various landscapes you traverse all present delightful color schemes that give even the harshest areas a sense of serenity. Just like the main gameplay mechanic, Cocoon’s visual identity is a confident one, crafting a world of wonder and mystery that’s striking in every way.
This strong graphical style is elevated that much more by Cocoon’s unforgettable soundtrack. While you’re not going to find toe-tapping or hummable tunes in Cocoon, what you will get is an alluring, haunting, and alien soundscape that brings every environment to life. There are so many musical moments, be they atmospheric or traditional, that heighten the journey that it was hard to keep track of them all. The amount of goosebumps I got while hearing the sound design for a new area or a solved puzzle is simply too many to count. Please, please, PLEASE make sure you play Cocoon with your best pair of headphones or your favorite sound system, as it’ll help transport you even deeper into this unbelievable experience.
While Cocoon will floor you with just about every facet, the extra impressive part is how much you’ll think about the game once the credits have rolled. Cocoon may seem like it’s about a small bug creature navigating an unfamiliar world, but it’s aiming to say so much more than that as well. Just like Limbo and Inside, you can take Cocoon’s story at face value and have a perfectly enjoyable time. For those who want to dig deeper, Cocoon seems to say a lot about who we are, the world we live in, how we view things, and where we might be heading based on the current state of things. Oh, and it does all this without uttering a single word or showing one text box. Now that’s a seriously impressive achievement.
I don’t think Geometric Interactive could have had a more stunning debut than Cocoon. This title may crib a few elements from past games here and there, but it manages to conjure something unwilling to fit into any category nicely. Sure, purely from a mechanics standpoint, Cocoon is a puzzler. Honestly though, I think it unfair to simply lump Cocoon in with other puzzle games. Don’t get me wrong; I love a good, traditional puzzle title. I just believe Cocoon offers something much grander in every sense, and it shows how much you can achieve with the right idea.
In a year where games like The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom and Baldur’s Gate III will no doubt be part of the ‘Game of the Year’ discussion (and deservedly so), Cocoon could end up surpassing them both. At the very least, it has everything a Game of the Year candidate requires, and in spades. This isn’t just a fantastic puzzler that shouldn’t be missed, Cocoon is the evolution of the puzzle genre as we know it. This is the game that pushes an entire genre to strive for more, and the industry will be better for it.