Inception, the 2010 grown-up blockbuster, is the best comparison I’ve got for Cocoon. Not just because they have similar mind-bending worlds-within-worlds structures, but both credit their audience with a good dose of intelligence, and trust that they can keep up. If anything, Cocoon is the more mind-bending, and the clever of the two.
There’s no overt explanation of anything – controls, mechanics, narrative. You play as a little bug, scuttling around with your orbs, using them to solve puzzles. Moving ever onward is motivation enough; there is a vague narrative in there somewhere, but it did nothing for me – one of the few quibbles I have with the game.
There’s a lot going on with those orbs. They each contain a world of their own, which you can enter when you pop them on specific stands. They also offer you extra abilities once the boss in that world is defeated – the first orange orb, for instance, can make otherwise invisible pathways appear. You can carry orbs around, and take them into other orb-worlds. And enter one orb-world from within another. And take an orb with you. And so on.
This does get complicated. It starts simply though – but even some of the early puzzles have enjoyably unusual solutions. It briefly gets a tiny bit repetitive – minor quibble number two – but then the game starts to stretch its legs, and your brain.
It’s only after a few hours of this that it becomes evident just how clever the game is. The puzzles are clever. The solutions are clever. But what’s really clever is the way the game constantly, but almost imperceptibly limits your options every step of the way – the orbs you have, where you can go – so that it’s virtually impossible to get frustrated pursuing the wrong train of thought.
Yet there are still moments of pure revelation, trying something so ridiculous that surely it couldn’t be right, but it is. The game knew you’d get there, and made sure you did, but still made you feel clever. It is a sublime piece of game design.
Not that it’s easy: I got close to looking online for help a couple of times. But it never felt impossible or unreasonable, so I persevered, considered the options, and that led me to the conceptual leap required. A couple of the bosses tried my patience, demanding repeated precision timing that doesn’t really fit with the thoughtful tone of the game – the last little quibble – but they’re wisely brief enough to never quite reach the point of frustration.
I don’t quite love Cocoon – those quibbles just hold it back. But I admire the absolute heck out of it – it’s a remarkable achievement to make a puzzle game so complicated, yet so completely accessible.
Geometric Interactive’s COCOON is out now on all formats. Published by Annapurna Interactive.