Annapurna Interactive, my favorite indie publisher, has finally dropped a much anticipated new puzzle game called COCOON. It’s specifically COCOON, not Cocoon. Make sure to get that right; it’ll be on the test.
This adventure takes you through recursive worlds that can be picked up and stored inside each other, making for one of the most ingenious puzzlers I’ve ever seen.
I came into this game with relatively high expectations, given it’s coming from the designer of LIMBO and the publisher that released my favorite game of all time, and I think came away from the experience having found the game that will absolutely be a strong contender for indie game of the year.
If you’re interested in the remarkably cool concept of an inception-like game, then stay tuned.
I’ll be covering the game’s simple mechanics that form complex puzzles and gushing over how much I adore this cute little bug game with cosmic horrors.
It’s hard to make my opinion ambiguous in this introduction; everything I can say about this game serves to highlight just how damn cool it is. So let’s waste no time and jump into Indie Game Culture’s COCOON review, conducted on PC.
The Perfect Puzzler
COCOON’s main mechanic is the incredibly cool idea of transporting yourself between worlds through snow-globe-like magical orbs that you can use to power objects in the real world and then create portals to go inside them.
It’s a bit trippy, carrying around an entire environment you were just in, but it’s super neat, especially when they mess with your position in both worlds.
The game boils down to mostly just exploring around, doing puzzles that are purely interacting with the environment, and the occasional boss that acts as another kind of puzzle but under a ton of pressure.
This makes for a slow-going but relaxing game loop that never gets stale since you’re constantly pondering an orb, warping between worlds, or exploring a unique environment.
You can even take worlds within worlds, then take a world into one inside a world. None of this feels like a hassle since, at most, the game only really asks you to think of your strategy with how you handle your worlds, and sometimes, it just boils down to carrying one thing instead of two. Regardless, it’s extremely cool inception-based gameplay.
You only have one button, the interact button, but it does so much. You can use it to pick up and place objects, press buttons, grab onto things, and do almost anything.
This simplistic but effective approach makes the core design of this game so accessible, and minimalist, yet perfectly implemented. Everything is fine-tuned and understandable, and it makes for one of the best puzzle titles I’ve played in recent memory.
This game design is pushed to its peak during boss fights. Every attack is choreographed so you can dodge and weave out of the way, interact with what you need in time while staying out of the boss’s way, and counterattack while still waiting out of harm’s way.
I haven’t seen a game do so much with just one button and movement since Sonic 3, honestly.
Overall, this gameplay is incredibly good; it’s simple and understandable from a surface level but gains more and more depth the further you get in.
It’s similar to The Witness; that game is just drawing lines, but it doesn’t mean it won’t stump you for hours, making your “aha!” moment when you finally understand all the sweeter, especially when there are more mechanics to keep track of.
Read our guide on how to beat every boss here!
Each orb you finish in COCOON gives you a new thing to play with and a new environment to explore.
After completing the first desert area, you can pick it up, and it will start revealing hidden invisible pathways in the ground, letting you use it creatively to cross big gaps and solve puzzles where you need to choose when to use the orb for power or paths.
You also get to explore new environments with each level you progress through, such as a green swamp with a ton of water altering your movement or an alien world only populated with unfamiliar purple flora and fauna, each environment letting you take the previous environment’s orb inside, making you multitask with all of them to use all their abilities.
This is all shown off perfectly, always looking completely understandable despite the complexity.
COCOON bursts onto the scene with an excellent art style, kind of a mix of Outer Wilds and Journey, with the very intentionally designed geometrical landscapes combined with great lighting, all the flat colors making everything pop.
I adore this; every puzzle component stands out without sacrificing good-looking environments. It’s refreshingly simple, and I love it.
The visual style is so simplistic that it strives to be completely uncompromised. There is pretty much no UI in this game, no tutorial prompts or anything beyond the settings menu and title screen, and no annoying garbage getting in the way.
It’s honestly incredible, given how simple this game is. It didn’t need any clutter, so it decided to go as simple as possible, and I think it paid off in spades. While less is more, sometimes you can go a little too far in the less direction.
A Stridulation Situation
The music of COCOON is nothing special; it’s primarily ambient, with a calm synth in the background scoring things and not much of note there. The sound design is good, though. Everything feels weighty and impactful; I especially love hearing the ‘thwoomph’ of a giant metal door falling into sand; it sells the impact and gives everything some physicality.
Coming off the heels of other Annapurna titles like Outer Wilds or Neon White, it’s disappointing to hear a soundscape that doesn’t go for much when it could develop a super unique style. It’s ambiant, but hardly pushing the envelope.
The boss themes are mostly beats you’d expect to hear in a rap track, nothing outstanding, and while it’s okay just to have background noise in a game, it could be way more. Indicating emotion or culture with the music could’ve gone a long way to bolstering this game’s themes.
That said, the themes shown in COCOON are entirely visual; the story opens with your character coming out of a cocoon, as is expected, and promptly starting to explore their new life in an unfamiliar desert world.
These small, detailed worlds work like pocket dimensions, stuck in orbs, and whenever you escape them to return to reality, a new extradimensional being will start inhabiting the world.
There isn’t much concrete lore or explanation; everything is 100% told through visuals with no words in sight. It’s all fascinating, though, and makes my mind race about the possibilities of everything in this universe, why we’re in some weird factory when we wake up, and what’s real and what isn’t.
It doesn’t make me rush to my whiteboard to create an insane web of connections to try and solve some stupid overarching story strung together across the whole game; it’s just a fantastic and exciting world.
Sometimes, letting players interpret the story themselves is better, and I loved doing that here. When everything in this game works, it works wonders.
A Few Bugs
I’ll level with you here: I have a great computer; I won’t be a nerd and flex the specs since I know most of you don’t care. Just know I can run most things on high settings, so seeing this game stutter every second or two is quite weird. It’s like how Minecraft Java edition will always manage to lag, no matter how good your PC is.
Usually, in this situation, I’d turn down my graphics settings, but for some reason, I’m not allowed to. The only graphics settings are fullscreen, resolution, brightness, and FPS cap.
There is no borderless windowed, VSync, or any way to turn down the settings to make it run better. If you have a bad or even just okay PC, get the console versions of this game; that’s all I’m sayin’.
As with any puzzle game, replay value isn’t what the genre is known for. Still, COCOON does make a significantly better effort for it than most other puzzle games, giving you the option to go back to any point in the game you want if you missed some of the secrets or wanna try and do the puzzles a little bit quicker.
It’s not much, but honestly, what’d you expect? I don’t really care too much about replay value, and in games where knowledge is power, you can’t have much of it anyway.
The only point of replaying being the standard speedrunning or achievement hunting is alright with me. You’ll get served the finest steak ever; it just won’t taste as good the second time because you’ve already had it.
What I will say, though, is that if you do have a hankering to play this one again or go searching for the collectible Moon Ancestors, then you’ll find one of the most competent Chapter Select screens I’ve seen in recent memory, allowing you to pop into the game at a certain percentage completion, allowing you to pinpoint exactly what you want to play around with without backtracking or playing dull sections.
I’ll be honest; there is literally nothing I’ve ever seen like COCOON before. The mind-bending and reality-shifting inception being handled in such a simple and elegant way is an incredibly new thing, so I’ll have to recommend some other great puzzlers with intriguing mechanics instead of proper alternatives.
Outer Wilds is another one of Annapurna’s greats, and it’s my favorite game of all time. This game also explores mind-melting mechanics and simple puzzles that can stump you for a long time and leave you crying on your couch in the middle of the night. It’s more of a space exploration game and way more complicated than COCOON, but it’s worth checking out.
Superliminal is a puzzle game that focuses more on its story’s surreal and comedic aspects but uses an incredibly clever mechanic where objects will grow or shrink with how you move them with your camera. It’s an excellent concept; exciting exploration makes it something to check out.
Journey is less about puzzles and more about being an incredible, completely wordless, and beautifully simplistic adventure. If you’re interested mainly in the exploration aspect of COCOON, then Journey is a game you’ve already heard of before but is worth checking out if you somehow haven’t.
Verdict – 9/10
Yup, they’ve done it again. This game was a recipe for success, but they slow-cooked this one and tended it with love and care, serving up one of the best dishes I’ve had in a long while. It’s not quite 10/10 perfect, but I equally wouldn’t be surprised if this game cleaned up at the next indie game award show.
On top of already being an excellent puzzle game in its own right, with one of the most extraordinarily excellent and well-executed concepts I’ve seen in recent memory, this game is packed with content. It will leave your brain wracked on progressing in these lovingly crafted and intricate worlds and locating their secrets like the Moon Ancestors.
This game is excellent; I just wish there was music in it I could love and remember. If it had that, it’d be perfect in my eyes. However, this is the easiest recommendation in the world for anyone who has a mild interest in puzzle games with cool exploration and incredible atmosphere. COCOON is incredible, and you should play it.
- Incredibly easy-to-understand control scheme, just one button and movement.
- In-depth puzzles that make you think out of the box and leave your jaw on the floor from the execution.
- Beautiful visuals that blend a charming low-poly style with gorgeous lighting and excellent texture work.
- Ambient music that scores the game fine but isn’t too interesting.
- Some performance issues on PC.
- Very few graphics settings on PC for lower-end machines.
Questions and Answers
Question: What is COCOON?
Answer: COCOON is a puzzle game revolving around inception-like concepts of worlds within worlds and exploring a bunch of differing, unique environments while taking on mind-bending challenges.
Question: How Long is COCOON?
Answer: COCOON will last you only about 4-5 hours, but going for full completion will tack on some extra time.
Question: What Platforms is COCOON on?
Answer: COCOON is available on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and Steam, as well as on Xbox Game Pass.
I played COCOON for around 8 hours on Steam, though that number is pretty bloated because I had the game open while writing and leaving it minimized. I got through to the end of the game, grabbing every Moon Ancestor on the way.
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