COCOON Review - This indie puzzle-adventure masterpiece finds beauty in the bizarre

COCOON Review - This indie puzzle-adventure masterpiece finds beauty in the bizarre
Images: Geometric Interactive

Written by 

Joseph Kime

Published 

6th Oct 2023 17:10

Some games don't ask you to understand them. It's not that they're trying to garner an audience of holier-than-thou pseudo-intellectuals, per se, but sometimes worlds, narratives, and experiences benefit from being so drastically set aside from the familiar.

There are few examples of this quite like COCOON - a game that gently releases you into a world you don't recognise or can even comprehend. With no leash to hold you back, there is a huge risk that players can lose their footing and collapse, a fate that would doom the latest from Geometric Interactive.

Against every odd, and in the fate of a baffling narrative that asks players to make their own presumptions about everything that lies before them, COCOON is a triumph that steps beyond the brilliant and exists on a plane all by itself.

GGRecon Verdict

Mechanics and narratives thought too bold and bright for some have been transformed into mere child's play by Geometric Interactive in a strong contender for the title of the best indie title of the entire year, and the team has proven that Carlsen's strokes of brilliance in INSIDE and LIMBO were far from flukes.

The streak continues, not only proving the dev team to be strong by itself, but also making clear that COCOON is the start of something truly incredible. The game is a triumph, and if it's a benchmark of what to expect from the team going forward, then they're about to be the smartest video game team on the planet. The future is here, and it's being carried around on the back of a bug.

Coming out of my COCOON, doing just fine

A marble passing through a sinewy tube in COCOON.
Click to enlarge

COCOON wastes no time in giving you absolute freedom, dropping you into a world without so much as a hand to hold in its first moments. It's here that you make sense of one fact that remains true until the game's credits roll - everything from here on out is up to you.

COCOON follows you, a cicada-like creature, as you travel through portable pocket universes trapped inside marbles that you carry around on your back, diving in and out across biochemical landscapes that deceive the eye and transcend understanding.

You know only to progress, only vaguely learning your intentions as they appear in front of you - and this strategy pays off hugely. The feeling of wonderment you'll get from opening a door, Finding a new ability or toppling a frighteningly peculiar Guardian boss is next to unparalleled, and knowing that doing things so simple as learning to walk and interact with your surroundings were a mystery to you mere minutes ago, you'll feel like a true genius.

It's the masterful level design that lead gameplay designer Jeppe Carlsen learned from his time working on LIMBO and INSIDE that truly shines here, with abstract and creative landscapes feeling so truly separate from each other even as they fold in on each other and become entangled that makes the gameplay of COCOON so easy to read.

Without such brilliant design, the game would fall apart and devolve into confusing impossibilities, but it sincerely never does. Puzzles are challenging and will tax your problem-solving, but they never feel truly impossible, and once you've dedicated hard enough to clearing them, you'll set off on your adventure once again with new clarity and excitement.

Every roadblock is a chance to make sense of the world that feels so truly alien, and it feels as though you're dusting off ancient tomes with every correct marble placement.

Brilliance hatches

A meeting with a world's Guardian in COCOON.
Click to enlarge

The game's story and narrative are the driving force that makes everything sing in unison, teasing you with the potential of understanding before it slips once again through your fingers. It's supported best, though, by the stunningly fresh art style and bizarre sound design that welcomes you into the fleshy, sinewy, bafflingly fascinating worlds that COCOON occupies.

Nothing truly makes sense, and it's for this reason that wonderment is able to spring from the depths of the game's narrative. It's your lack of understanding that makes you feel so truly isolated in the sticky-warm of the game, and it spurs you to work harder and solve puzzles smarter. You're motivated, but you're not sure why until the game's breathtaking final moments.

Its existence in spite of its players' understanding is reminiscent of last year's Solar Ash, albeit with a little more complexity - you're presented with a beautiful world and a fascination to make sense of it that only your own will to explore will unearch.

Though COCOON is a short title, amassing to only four to five hours if you're not going digging for the hidden Moon Ancestors to free, not a moment is wasted, and it doesn't overstay its welcome for a moment.

Its ambiguous closure comes as a shock, and finally puts all of the pieces of the world together, helping the whole project to have a full-circle conclusion that makes you want to live it all over again. COCOON is an experience you'll want to have for the first time a thousand times over.

The Verdict

A slim walkway reaching across a network of biochemical machines in COCOON.
Click to enlarge

In almost all ways conceivable, COCOON is a triumph. It's beautiful, intriguing, and is as simple as it is complicated, and vice versa. There are few other ways to describe it - COCOON is a work of development genius that makes child's play of the complex and makes its player, despite their lack of understanding, feel like a bright spark with a thirst for adventure.

Mechanics and narratives thought too bold and bright for some have been transformed by Geometric Interactive into a strong contender for the title of the best indie title of the entire year, and the team has proven that Carlsen's strokes of brilliance in INSIDE and LIMBO were far from flukes.

The streak of Carlsen and co. continues, not only proving the dev team to be strong by itself but also making clear that COCOON is the start of something truly incredible. The game is a triumph, and if it's a benchmark of what to expect from the team going forward, then they're about to be the smartest video game team on the planet. The future is here, and it's being carried around on the back of a bug.

4.5/5

Reviewed on PS5. Code provided by the publisher.

Joseph Kime is the Senior Trending News Journalist for GGRecon from Devon, UK. Before graduating from MarJon University with a degree in Journalism, he started writing music reviews for his own website before writing for the likes of FANDOM, Zavvi and The Digital Fix. He is host of the Big Screen Book Club podcast, and author of Building A Universe, a book that chronicles the history of superhero movies. His favourite games include DOOM (2016), Celeste and Pokemon Emerald.