As I readily admit on the Indie Game Culture Podcast, I’m a sucker for puzzle games. I love titles that challenge me mentally, especially if they do so in unexpected ways. In my experience, puzzle games are one of the most versatile genres out there, and developers are always finding new ways to impress me.
As such, I was instantly captivated by the Cocoon trailer earlier this year and was eagerly waiting in anticipation of its release. Luckily for me, I actually didn’t have to wait until the official launch date, as recently, I had the opportunity to play an early demo. I was at the Xbox After Hours event at Gamescom 2023 when I suddenly saw that there was a booth for Cocoon. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I immediately ditched my husband and just RAN over to it before someone else could beat me to it.
So, is it worth the hype? What can you expect from its release? Read on to find out!
My Initial Thoughts
Cocoon is a gorgeous puzzle game that plays to the strengths of the genre. A variety of challenges combined with the beauty of a desolate world makes for gameplay that captivates the player from the get-go. If the demo is anything to go by, the full release is bound to be a truly spectacular experience, and I can’t wait to see what other puzzle mechanics are introduced.
In front of each game booth at the event, there was a little plaque with the controls. Most of them had a use for pretty much every button, but not Cocoon. There are literally only 2 controls in this game. You can move using the left analog stick, and you can also interact with various objects in the environment.
I was initially pretty disappointed when I saw how limited the controls were. I’d been excited to use different mechanics to solve puzzles and was worried that the game would be too easy this way. But whilst I understand why I initially thought that, I wasn’t exactly correct.
The complexity arises from the puzzles themselves, and deciding what to interact with and when is a crucial part of Cocoon. Honestly, even though there were only two controls to work with, I was so focused on the puzzles that I barely noticed the simplicity. It’s not as much of a limiting factor as you might expect.
The movement is nice and smooth. You move at a set rate and you can’t speed up, which is normally something that bothers me. However, the pace the developers have chosen is perfect for the game, so you don’t feel like you’re moving too slowly. It’s very responsive, and you can maneuver your character into the exact position you want to be in with no difficulty. This was a major factor in me enjoying the game, as I despise when movement is janky.
Every Day I’m Puzzlin’
If any of you listen to the Indie Game Culture Podcast, you’ll know that I’m a huge advocate for the puzzle genre. It’s one of my absolute favorite genres, particularly in the indie-sphere, as I think it offers so many unique possibilities and concepts that have never been done before. The incredible variety that you find between puzzle games is unmatched, so I’m always keen to check out new puzzle titles.
Cocoon offers a selection of intriguing mechanics, and that was just the demo. I honestly can’t wait to play the full game, as I just know there will be so many excellent puzzles to get my brain juices flowing. As it was, I particularly enjoyed the puzzles involving the mystical orbs which act as portals to new levels. They can be picked up and moved around, allowing you to access pathways that were previously closed off.
Planning is everything in Cocoon. A lot of the puzzles seem obvious at first glance since there are often very few elements, however, doing things in the right order is crucial. Timing can also be a key factor, such as if you’re on a moving platform and need to quickly run off to another one.
Sometimes, the puzzles present you with a mental challenge to figure out. Other times, the ‘puzzles’ are more of a test of skill. One particular puzzle involves having to run and press a series of buttons at exactly the right time to twist pipe sections into forming one continuous pipe. Although it’s very clear from the beginning what you need to do, it’s a real race against time to get from one button to the next.
I think the puzzles are almost perfect in terms of difficulty. (What I’m about to say is going to sound really braggy, and I promise that’s not my intention, I just want to present an honest appraisal). I’m incredibly good at solving puzzles, as I spent a lot of my childhood doing jigsaws, IQ tests (yup, just for fun), mazes, etc.
So I’ll admit that I found most of the puzzles in the Cocoon demo to be really easy and just flashed through them. But even though I was able to do them straight away, I still had fun discovering the solutions and didn’t mind the lack of difficulty. I expect that for the average gamer, they’ll present enough of a challenge to be interesting, without being so difficult that you give up and quit.
I’m not sure how best to describe the graphics in Cocoon. They’re not jaw-droppingly gorgeous like other indie games such as The Artful Escape or Dordogne. But they have a subtle elegance that impressed me in a way I can’t quite put into words. They’re definitely beautiful, but it goes beyond just a shallow preference for the art style.
I think the assets chosen are perfect for the theme of the game, and the slightly desaturated color palette allows for consistency across levels. This deliberate attempt to dull down the world creates an immersion that I don’t think would have been possible with a more vibrant design.
There aren’t really any bold lines or intricate details. Instead, the visuals are characterized by simple shapes and contrasting colors to differentiate between assets. The world drifts seamlessly past you as you move, and the simplicity of the graphics helps that process. It’s relatively sparsely packed, yet it doesn’t feel empty. There’s just enough going on to keep your interest whilst not distracting you from the puzzles at hand.
In terms of thematic style, it’s like futuristic sci-fi crossed with your typical dystopian wasteland. You have these robotic, technologically advanced pieces of infrastructure set amongst rocky mountains and crumbling bridges. It’s a juxtaposition that you wouldn’t expect to find, and it lends a sense of intrigue. Why did this world arise? Where is everybody else? It’s always impressive when the art itself can make you want to learn more about the lore of the game.
If you can’t wait until Cocoon‘s release and you’re looking for something to scratch that itch in the meantime, look no further. Here are my top suggestions for alternatives to play whilst you’re waiting for the full game.
- Planet of Lana – Even though I accused this game of being a walking simulator disguised as a puzzle-platformer (a comment I heartily stand by), it was still an excellent game and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. The puzzles aren’t as plentiful as I’d hoped, nor as key to the gameplay as in Cocoon, but the ones that are present are wonderful. I also think the general vibe is somewhat similar, what with the sci-fi elements of the robots. It’s a short game, roughly 5-7 hours, so it’s worth trying out.
- Viewfinder – Although on the surface, this doesn’t have much in common with Cocoon, I’ve included it purposefully. The thing that stood out to me about Cocoon was the quality of the puzzles, and I love that Viewfinder has such a unique puzzle mechanic. You really have to interact with and explore the world, using your brain to figure out how to move from one area to the next.
- Portal – “Speedy thing goes in, speedy thing comes out”. Sorry, I had to. Anyway, Portal is arguably one of the best-known puzzle games of all time, and for good reason. Portal relies on the player becoming accustomed to ‘thinking with portals’, adjusting their perspective on the levels, and fully utilizing the mechanic of the portal gun. Similarly, Cocoon often requires using the orbs to interact with the world around you in ways that wouldn’t normally be possible.
Overall, Cocoon was one of my favorite games that I played at Gamescom, and I’m so excited for its official release on 29th September. The range of puzzles really impressed me, and I can’t wait to discover what else the game has to offer. This feels like one of those games that will 100% capture my attention during every moment from its release to me completing it. Sometimes I’ll play something where I literally won’t be able to put it down until it’s over, and I fully suspect that’ll be the case with Cocoon.
One thing I will say is that the game felt quite linear, but I won’t hold that against it. In the trailer, it looked like there was a lot of moving in and out of orbs, so I guess I was expecting that to be a more frequent requirement. I also thought that maybe there would be multiple paths you could explore at once, perhaps different puzzles in each orb, and that wasn’t the case.
However, I’m taking into consideration the fact that I was just playing a demo, so it’s likely the full game might have more opportunity for exploration.
All in all, I’d say that from my experience with the demo, Cocoon is definitely one to watch. It’s on my radar, and it should be on yours, too!