The abstract environmental puzzle game has developed into its own genre in recent years. Some tell strange but easy-to-understand stories, others are so obscure that the player can attribute almost any meaning to what happens on the screen. On this difficult-to-define spectrum, Cocoon lands in the second half of the scale. Essentially, I never had any idea why I did what I did or what the greater goal was, but it didn’t bother me for a moment because the puzzles were so brain-scratching that I was always striving to solve the strange one to solve the task that she brought with her before me.
In Cocoon, you are a winged beetle creature with limited flight abilities who must move marble-like spheres from point to point. Simply moving the protagonist around the world feels fantastic, and it’s easy to engage with the world. They do not jump or attack enemies. Every interaction is handled with a button. Thanks to the fluid movement and the simplicity of the intervention, you can fully concentrate on the puzzle task and enjoy the always impressive animation of the environment and the various creatures that inhabit it.
The core of Cocoon are the balls that your character can pick up and move. Each globe contains a world within it, and to move through the game and solve its puzzles, you must jump in and out of these worlds, using the abilities they offer while holding them in your hand. For example, the orange globe makes certain paths appear and the green globe allows certain platforms to move up and down. Solving the puzzle involves figuring out how to carry the needed globes to the correct worlds. Cocoon handles this potentially tricky puzzle mechanic impressively, without ever becoming too complicated and making you feel like you’re delving ever deeper into an ever-shrinking series of worlds.
The only frustration with this process is that solving a puzzle often boils down to knowing where and how to position your globes and carrying them one by one to their destination. Thankfully it never gets too boring, but there are a few instances where I felt like I was making a move to solve a puzzle rather than arriving at a moment of brilliant catharsis.
Despite the abstract art movement that pushes you through a series of strange, seemingly organic structures, I never found myself in a situation where I wasn’t sure which direction to go. Environmental clues or the occasional key floating next to you will help you determine the direction to go. I always felt like I was making progress and never banging my head against a puzzle I didn’t understand.
A few boss fights break up the puzzle-solving, and I always looked forward to getting to know them. In these cases the experience is closest to an action game. You’re not so much attacking an enemy in the traditional sense, but rather making sure you stay in the right position until they’re defeated. I enjoyed the challenge of each boss encounter and showed myself how to overcome them.
Perhaps Cocoon’s greatest triumph is its pacing and how well it teaches new world-based skills by the end. What sets the game apart is that you become an expert at using a particular skill to solve a puzzle, and then continue to use that skill along with the new skills you’ve discovered. World hopping certainly has the potential to become overly complicated, but Cocoon shows restraint in the interest of making a better puzzle game, and it pays off. I don’t know if I will ever fully understand what transpired during my molecular journey in Cocoon’s alien world, but the images and puzzles will stay with me for some time.