Geometric Interactive is led by alumni from Playdead, the studio behind Limbo and Inside, and you can really tell. Its debut game, Cocoon, shares a lead gameplay designer in Jeppe Carlsen, and his expertise shines through in one of this year's standout releases — indie or otherwise. With an ingenious concept fuelling its myriad puzzles, this is an incredibly lean and compelling game from start to finish.
Cocoon is a puzzle adventure in which you control a bug-like creature on a multi-world odyssey. Set in a series of environments from alien deserts to biomechanical caverns, the game has you hopping between them in order to solve puzzles. At set points in each level, you can leap out of one world and into the next, with the place you just left contained within an orb you can carry on your back. It's tricky to wrap your head around, but it makes a lot more sense in action.
To start with, you'll venture through one stage, solving environmental puzzles within it. These include moving platforms using switches, lowering barriers, that sort of thing. Eventually, you'll come to a checkpoint from which you can leap out of the world and into the next one up, so to speak. The level you were just inside is fully contained in a large marble, which you'll then need to carry around as you explore this new area. Later, again at set points, you can hop back into that original world after having solved more puzzles in the latter level. Eventually, you'll be dealing with multiple orbs, carrying one into another to complete previously impossible conundrums.
Not only do these orbs contain whole stages, they eventually gain abilities. The first, for example, gains the power to show invisible walkways, allowing you to reach new areas. Each of these additional abilities is of course tied into the puzzle design, and the game ends up with a fair amount of layers you need to keep in mind.
While it sounds convoluted on paper, Cocoon is an incredibly tightly designed game with a perfectly pitched difficulty curve. It starts you off gently, building up to its core idea, then expands upon it little by little. It's executed so well you'll barely notice, but new ideas are being introduced to you right up to the end of the journey. The result is a puzzler that provides a consistent challenge, keeping you engaged but never making things too difficult.
It's the way these ideas and challenges mix together that's perhaps most impressive. As mentioned, the level and puzzle design on display here is immaculate. Every square inch of the game has purpose — everything is positioned just so, not wasting any space. Progression is linear, but the way each world interconnects with the others is so clever. You'll use orb abilities to open up other levels, keep orbs inside other orbs to carry more than one, and much more besides. There are many moments throughout Cocoon's sub-10 hour runtime in which levels affect each other or link up in some unforeseen way, and it's incredibly gratifying.
While the majority of the game has you solving these wonderfully satisfying puzzles, it breaks things up with a handful of boss battles. Each world is guarded by a large creature you'll need to defeat. With no combat abilities to speak of, these engagements are mostly about evasion. However, each battle has a simple and unique mechanic allowing you to fight back. For example, flying around on a sort-of jetpack ball before dropping it on your enemy, or zooming into crystallised weak spots. If a boss hits you, you're flung from the world you're currently in, and can quickly dive back in for another try. This resets progress in the fight, which is a touch frustrating, especially as the large bosses can sometimes obscure your view of your diminutive character.
Despite seeming complicated with orbs you can jump in and out of, abilities to keep in mind, those rare combat encounters, and of course the puzzles themselves, the entire game is played using just the left stick and the X button. Keeping the controls so simple not only makes it a very accessible experience, it also means you can focus on what's in front of you. Pair that up with the minimalist presentation, and you have a game that really gets out of its own way. With no complex controls to master and no HUD cluttering your view, it really draws you in, working hand-in-hand with the steady flow of puzzles for a super-compelling experience.
It helps that the worlds you're exploring are visually and sonically interesting places to be. Each one has an imposing, mysterious vibe that'll have you wondering how and why they're connected. The graphical style here is sleek and simple, with bold colours and shapes making each alien landscape stand out. Accompanied by an ethereal, synth-based soundtrack, the game does a great job of making you feel like a small part of a larger universe.
The one thing we'll say regarding the world of Cocoon is that, upon reaching the end, we were left with more questions than answers. The entire game is free of dialogue and text, leaving the storytelling up to the environment around you. While it's certainly an intriguing place to explore, the game leaves a few things unanswered. It's strange — the story is in some ways tied up nicely, but in others, it didn't quite scratch the itch.
In a year packed with brilliant games, Cocoon manages to stand out thanks to its unique mechanics and some of the best level and puzzle design we've seen in years. It holds your attention with an intriguing sci-fi world, challenges you with puzzles spanning multiple worlds, and keeps you hooked with accessible controls and minimalist presentation. With only the most minor grievances holding it back, we're confident in saying this is up there with 2023's best.