Some puzzle games have a set of brainteasers that drive an interesting story forward. Others are just about the puzzles themselves. Cocoon, one of the highest-rated indie games of the year, settles gently and quite brilliantly in that latter category.
And it’s really great to look at, too.
Cocoon is an abstract environmental puzzle game that establishes fantastic worlds-within-worlds and then challenges you to think your way in, around and through those puzzling places.
You start out as a winged beetle that drops into a colorful land of geometric rock and hill-like formations. It’s a bug-mixed-with-alien-technology kind of place. And as the environment itself nudges you forward—stairways disappearing behind you and rising before you—you quickly realize that your game controls are as basic as possible. You use one movement stick to get around and one button to interact. And those mechanics stay the same throughout the game.
Oh, but if you think that means it’s all going to be simple and boring, you need to think again. After the first few rudimentary puzzlers, you discover that your little buggy protagonist can carry translucent colored orbs and move them from here to there, revealing pathways, opening blockades and powering up alien plant devices.
For instance, an orange orb reveals invisible bridges that allow you to cross from one cliff area to another. A green orb gives you the ability to jump up through columns of smoke. But these found orbs are more than just pretty balls with puzzle-unlocking powers. They’re also worlds within themselves—or more accurately, containers that each hold their own little uniquely designed orb-world. And at specific points in the game, you can hop right into those worlds as part of your puzzle solving.
In fact, you can take another orb (or two or three) with you in pursuit of whatever conundrum solution you’re chasing into an orb-world. Think of these worlds as Russian nesting dolls—with each inner realm potentially holding a key to moving on. Next thing you know, you’re three orb-worlds deep trying to wrap your brain around how to get from A to Z.
It’s all really quite ingenious. And though you will find yourself scratching your head over a solution from time to time, the game always gives you subtle clues and hints that are built right into the alien worlds around you. And the more difficult the challenge, the more rewardingly cathartic the solution.
Each new orb level also ends with a boss battle against an insect-like foe. But even those battles are more puzzle focused than scary and zappy. One bee-looking boss, for example, tries to hit you and throw stinger minions your way while you dodge and search for ground-thumping orbs that will send him off to greener pastures. If your protagonist is hit, you reappear at an earlier hub-point to give it another go.
Cocoon is a dialogue-free single player game.
Again, it’s all about the puzzles. The environs are pleasant and almost soothing to look at. But it’s the brain-teasing obstacles, passage blocking foes and alien-tech conundrums that make the play fun.
Cocoon is also a game that can be easily broken down into short play stretches for players who have to head off for bed or homework duties.
Nothing much to worry over in this E-rated title. The orb “insect guardians” do run after and throw/shoot things at players. But it’s not overly intense or scary.
The only real concern may be that some puzzles can be tough for young players who have a hard time thinking outside the lines. That can then require some adult assistance. (But then again, that might be a plus, too.)
Cocoon is an alien bug-focused puzzler designed to get your brain humming and clicking … without driving you buggy.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.