As gamers, we have a wide and ranging taste in games. I absolutely love an indie title, especially those which feel more like an experience (even a journey you’re taken on) rather than a video game you’re playing. Maybe I’m just going a bit soft in my advancing years, but these are the ones which stick with me for the longest.
As you can imagine, it’s always rather exciting for me when a game is published by Annapurna Interactive, who consistently showcase some of the best indie games going. In fact, their annual presentation is one of my favourites, thanks to the variety, imagination and artistic talent on show.
COCOON is one of the latest games to come from the publisher, which involves the lead gameplay designer who worked on LIMBO and INSIDE and was developed by Geometric Interactive. What’s on offer here is a truly mesmerising adventure across worlds which fit inside each other, that you can then travel between like the different levels in Inception (cracking film that).
Simply put, COCOON is a puzzle adventure game with an ingenious mechanic at its core. Each world exists within an orb which can be picked up and taken along with you, and once placed on certain podiums can be travelled to in a similar fashion to diving into a swimming pool. As I’m sure you can imagine, this lays the foundations for some mind-bending conundrums to be solved.
This is mostly thanks to the abilities you will unlock for each orb. These are varied, including revealing hidden paths, manipulating platforms and even teleporting. These provide plenty of opportunities to challenge the player, however COCOON really shines when a combination of several abilities is needed to proceed.
It’s hard to describe the puzzles, but it’s a little like those over engineered Honda adverts where the ball bearing clears all sorts of impressive obstacles to reach the end of its path. You are tasked to really think about your actions in the “surface” world, and how they filter down into the others to reveal the path ahead.
It sounds complicated, but in practice makes perfect sense, and is a joy to behold. COCOON also constantly avoids the risk of any feelings of repetition or boredom thanks to its perfect pacing.
There’s no other way to say it, COCOON looks absolutely beautiful. The cel shaded visual style gives each world its own unique feel whilst bringing the many weird and wonderful creatures to life. There’s a bright and beautiful colour palette at work within each orb, and it all adds up to a sense of awe and wonder as you emerge from your cocoon, and begin to explore the mysterious worlds that await you.
What I love even more however, is the use of sound in the game. Whether it’s ancient alien machinery creaking and groaning as it lumbers into action, indigenous creatures reacting to your arrival or the confirmatory ding as you solve a puzzle, it’s lovingly and meticulously crafted.
A little detail which really impressed was that when an orb is placed on the right type of podium, a small reflection pool will open up, providing a window into that world. If you do something from where you are that affects that world, you can see it play out in the pool. I was so in awe that I couldn’t help but say “woooooow” despite it just being me and the cat in the room.
The same can be said of the environments too. The design is so creative, everything is there for a reason. Despite you moving forward and thinking you have left an area behind, COCOON doesn’t waste any of its creative flair as you are led back once again to see things from a different perspective.
The camera, which tracks you, is also used for more than simply keeping tabs on your movements. There are numerous occasions where a combination of five symbols need to be activated to free a small drone which will unlock barriers for you. However, each time the correct sequence of shapes is hidden somewhere nearby. There is one of these puzzles in particular where I got stumped, until I realised the camerawork was hiding the solution in plain sight. I was so impressed, and this is one of countless examples of COCOON’s ingenuity.
For the most part, you’re left to navigate the mysterious orb worlds without being exposed to too much danger. However, guardian battles change this. These foes won’t kill you (death isn’t an option in COCOON and tonally that decision feels right), but will chuck you out of the arena meaning you’ll have to restart the battle.
Each encounter is well thought out and feels different. It makes the battles genuinely enjoyable when often it’s here that games fall down, and opt for a lazy bullet sponge enemy encounter. Instead, as each battle unfolds you may be platform hopping, zipping through the air or using a water powered jetpack as the orb abilities come in very handy indeed.
The environments in COCOON aren’t just well designed but they are also home to some secrets too, despite the fairly linear nature to them. Moon Ancestors are hidden throughout the game which, when freed, will reward you with plenty of Gamerscore. Otherwise, your only other reward is watching them blast off to pastures new which, given the vibe of COCOON, feels perfectly fitting.
The game took me just short of six hours to complete, partly because I was stumped by a few puzzles near the end. Despite getting stuck for nearly half an hour at one point, I never got frustrated. I learned the rules of the world in COCOON and knew the design played by them, I just had to figure out how. In truth, I loved every minute of it. So much so I completed the game in one sitting, a rarity for me these days. It’s all about quality, not quantity folks.
At every turn, I was left almost breathless by the beauty and ingenuity in COCOON. It’s a staggeringly brilliant game with which words cannot really do justice.