If there’s a narrative running through Cocoon, I’m afraid I can’t tell you what it is. But it doesn’t matter: this wordless puzzle-adventure speaks through its environments and level design. And while you might never know your character’s name – or even what they are – you’ll likely be hooked as you move through Cocoon’s inter-connecting worlds, solving its satisfying and excellently-designed puzzles as you go.
Set in a strange, insect-inspired alien world, level design is the beating heart of Cocoon. There’s a mixture of environments here; some feel inspired by nature and others are very Giger-like. They all flow seamlessly from one into the other, though: you see, Cocoon has worlds within worlds. A set of mysterious orbs form the basis of the gameplay here, and the first time you discover the true nature of one of these orbs – by placing it down in the centre of a body of water, holding down your action button to jump within it – you’ll realise just how clever and complex Cocoon really is.
Each of the orbs holds a very different world inside it, but each orb also allows you to make use of an ability. Hold the orange orb, for example, and invisible walkways will appear, allowing you to reach areas previously inaccesible. And the green orb allows you to manipulate strange towers, moving them up or down to act as sinewy escalators.
Inexplicably intertwined, then, you’ll make use of orbs but also travel within them, moving from one to the other and back again as you make your way through Cocoon’s clever puzzles. Nothing here is too complicated, but puzzles will often stop you in your tracks and truly make you think about what is possible within the realms of the game’s world. There are no complicated mechanics, it’s not that type of game: you can move with the analogue stick and push A to interact with something, and that’s it. The solutions are always right in front of you, then: you just need to figure them out.
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Sometimes, turning off the game and returning to it with a fresh set of eyes is all I’ve needed to do to solve one of Cocoon’s more fiendish puzzles. Having an “a-ha!” moment truly is a glorious thing, and progressing to the next area of the game is momentous, never quite knowing what’s going to be waiting beyond the next door or across the next bridge.
It’s your own curiosity and satisfaction that is going to be the driving force of progressing through Cocoon. Without an obvious narrative, without characters to learn the background and motivations of, there are no big story twists and turns to keep you on the edge of your seat. Instead, you’re going to be propelled forward simply by stand-out level design, and the joy that solving a puzzle can bring. The boss fights help, too.
I’m not usually a fan of video game bosses but the battles – if you can really call them that, being your character is weaponless and defenceless – here are excellently designed and truly captivating. Each one notably different from the last, they are reminiscent of traditional platforming bosses in that you need to watch their patterns and dodge their attacks. But with no attacks of your own to unleash, you’ll need to use the environment to fight back. Just one mistake and you’re flung out of the area, having to start again from scratch. You’ll dust yourself off and try again with a new sense of purpose, learning from your mistakes.
The nature of Cocoon means this isn’t going to be a game for everyone. Some players will need narrative, will need dialogue or character motivations to hook them into an experience. There’s nothing wrong with that, really, but if that is you, you’re missing out on a treat here. Cocoon is both simple and infinitely complex; it presents a beautiful, visceral world that requires no explanation. Thrown into it without even the slightest hint of an introduction, it’s your own curious mind that will carry you through this interwoven web of puzzles, and solving each one is an enriching experience that’s likely to stick with you for some time.