I played nonstop through Cocoon in one sitting. That wasn’t my intention when I pulled up a chair to download the game, but its mesmerizing combination of shimmering worlds, tantalizing mystery, and engulfing puzzles beckoned me on until I realized I was facing its ineffable ending.
Its design is exquisite. With no UI to pierce the liquid-smooth beauty of its environments, there’s no barrier to block my admiration, but also no shield from the game’s more unsettling undercurrents. Cocoon wondrously grants the illusion of unfettered independence. I feel I discovered everything, solved everything, unbalanced everything of my own volition — though, in a way that leaves me musing over the game’s attitude on autonomy, that feeling is only possible because the developers hid the strings guiding me along so masterfully.
Though its concept may be difficult to wrap your mind around, the puzzle solving that constitutes most of the moment-to-moment gameplay is extremely intuitive. It has to be because there are no button prompts or nagging in-game guides to shepherd the player through. The triumphant feeling of getting something right is a direct consequence of this apparent lack of help.
Of course, the game is helping, though subtly. Looking closely, I notice my tech-bug protagonist ruffles its wings when I stumble past something I can interact with. Impressive music cues subtly alert me to important elements — and whether or not I can expect trouble. And lighting keeps me on track like a signpost to my subconscious.
The sheer wonder of diving into worlds, and the ways the developers played around with this concept, left me shaking my head in disbelief and smiling all at the same time. I couldn’t wait to marvel with other players at the wild position later in the game of being both in and carrying the same world at the same time. And if that doesn’t make sense, that’s perfect. I was literally experiencing it and had trouble coming to grips with the idea. It was breathtaking.
Boss battles, however, didn’t quite inspire those wondrous emotions. I never disliked a fight and enjoyed the more puzzle-solving over combat feel, but with how creative other parts of the game could be, I had hoped to see that mirrored. Though defeating a massive enemy always brought a flash of anticipation because it meant another new ability.
Once a world’s boss is gone, the world that contained it becomes a helpful tool. For example, the early desert planet grants the ability to reveal previously invisible pathways in other worlds. Consequently, the game constantly felt fresh, with discoveries tucked around every corner. That’s commendable considering each world follows the same basic structure: solve puzzles, find key, open big door, fight boss.
Cocoon is one of this year’s brightest gems — both form and function dazzle. I can only begin to guess at what its conclusion means, but that didn’t hinder my appreciation in the slightest. Masterful design, stunning environments, brilliant concepts, intuitive gameplay, it all adds up to an unmissable experience.