Windows Central Verdict
COCOON captured my interest from its first reveal trailer, and now it's one of my favorite games of the year. This unique, beautiful, mysterious puzzle-adventure game enraptures you from the first few seconds of gameplay, and keeps you entranced for its short runtime with fascinating world design, genuinely clever and engaging puzzles, and some of best visuals in gaming this year.
Fantastic puzzles that are interesting and engaging without focusing on difficulty
Unique and detailed art design that gives every element of this universe a distinct identity
Gorgeous visuals, smooth animations, and incredibly punchy audio
Late-game puzzles can feel a little tedious moving orbs around
Accessibility is middling
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It's not often that a game sinks its claws in me so quickly and deeply that I can scarcely put the controller down until the credits roll. I play a lot of different video games, both for work and outside of it, and I have to balance that with my personal life. Every now and then, though, a game comes along that wholly captures my brain and holds me hostage until there's nothing left to play. COCOON is one such game.
From Jeppe Carlsen, the mastermind behind legendary indie hits like LIMBO and INSIDE, comes a brand-new adventure unlike anything he has ever made before. COCOON trades the dark and somber tones of its predecessors for a colorful, vividly imagined universe, and trades the platforming for one of the most engaging and interesting puzzle systems I've ever encountered in gaming.
COCOON is genuinely on my list for the very best Xbox games of the year. If that's all you need for a recommendation, go play this right now. If you need more, I'd be happy to rave about COCOON and how amazing it is for a while.
Disclaimer: This review was made possible by playing COCOON through Xbox Game Pass. No companies saw the contents of the review before publishing.
What is COCOON?
Release date: Sept. 29, 2023
Developer: Geometric Interactive
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Install size: 3.4GB
Playtime: 5 hours
Platforms: Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Windows PC (Microsoft Store, Steam), PS4, PS5, Switch
Xbox Game Pass: Xbox, Windows PC, cloud
Reviewed on: Xbox Series X
COCOON is a puzzle-adventure game designed by Jeppe Carlsen, most known for the platformers LIMBO and INSIDE. COCOON is a departure from Carlsen's previous games, focusing almost entirely on its unique puzzle mechanics. In the game, you'll explore alien and biomechanical environments, moving in, out, and between worlds through a series of mysterious orbs. These orbs are at the center of every puzzle, and will help players unravel the cosmic mystery at COCOON's center.
COCOON is a short adventure with no spoken dialogue or text, taking around 4-6 hours to complete in its entirety. While there are secrets, they can all be found on a single playthrough, and the game doesn't have much replayability once you've found these secrets and solved every puzzle. COCOON is available from Sept. 29 across Xbox, Windows PC, PlayStation, and Switch platforms, and retails for $24.99. It's also available through Xbox and PC Game Pass, and Xbox Cloud Gaming, as a day one addition.
COCOON review: Performance and stability
Performance & stability highlights
- Performance on Xbox Series X is flawless and smooth, with no stutters, lag, freezes, or crashes.
- Stability is also great, with no bugs, visual glitches, or puzzle-related issues and locks.
- There aren't any performance modes on Xbox, but the game doesn't really need it.
Lately, it seems like a trend for games to either release broken but complete or stable but incomplete, and be fixed after launch. COCOON avoids the grasp of those concerning gaming trends by releasing feature complete and totally polished, with impeccable performance across the board.
Honestly, there's nothing to complain about here. Sure, there aren't any performance modes or visual options, nor is this a photorealistic game with high-resolution textures and models. Yet, it ran flawlessly on my Xbox Series X with not a single dropped frame or stutter. It was smooth the entire time, and I also never saw any freezes or crashes, nor did I have to restart at any point because I soft-locked a puzzle or messed a solution up (I tried to do this, too, just to see if I could).
Did audio de-sync? Were there visual glitches or missing textures? Were cinematics broken or flawed in any way? Did I notice any bugs at all? No to all of this. There's no such thing as a completely perfect game launch, but COCOON comes pretty darn close.
COCOON review: Visuals and art design
Visuals & art design highlights
- COCOON firmly builds its own unique identity from the moment you start playing purely through great art design.
- Anything that animates is unbelievably smooth and distinctive, from the world guardians to even doors opening.
- The sound design perfectly matches these visuals, scratching an itch deep in your brain with punchy, detailed noises throughout.
Never mind photorealistic, open-world AAA games with picture perfect graphics and ray traced lighting. Give me a game like COCOON every time, which manages to be one of the most visually appealing video games of 2023 solely thanks to its relentlessly unique and cohesive art design. I'm not exaggerating when I say I had to fight not to take screenshots every few minutes of playing — COCOON is a stunner.
There are diverse environments to explore, from barren deserts and alien worlds to biomechanical factories and cryptic facilities. Each of these environments is connected through the orbs, mysterious objects that contain entire worlds. You travel into new worlds through these orbs, but you can also travel to worlds within those worlds, or move between worlds, or escape out of worlds into other worlds. It sounds confusing, but the elegance of the orbs, the distinct environments, and the absolutely gorgeous animations when using the orbs makes it easy to keep up in practice.
Animations in general are what tie COCOON together. Traveling through orbs, using their abilities, battling the mysterious and powerful guardians that protect each world, and traversing into new areas through massive and clearly ancient gates all come with crisp, smooth, and satisfying animations. They're good enough that I'd happily watch a montage of all the door animations in COCOON, because wow.
Sound design is also top-notch. Different actions and occurrences all come with detailed and visceral sounds, much of which (especially in the biomechanical environments), tickle my brain in the best possible way. Interacting with one machine actually gave me goosebumps because of how the sound it made. To summarize: COCOON is gorgeous in every way a video game can be gorgeous. This level of cohesive design, from the visuals and animations to the audio, make a universe feel alive, and it is oh-so satisfying to experience it.
I took way more screenshots of COCOON than I needed for this review, so enjoy a collection below:
COCOON review: Story and worlds
Story & worlds highlights
- COCOON lacks any spoken dialogue or text, with the story entirely told through your actions and the worlds.
- Those worlds are diverse but also intrinsically connected through the orbs, and the divides quickly become blurred.
- There's a cosmic mystery at the center of COCOON, but the game is always enigmatic and lets the player fill in the gaps.
COCOON does tell a story, although it's far from a complete narrative. There is no dialogue in COCOON. In fact, there's not a single written word in-game, either. There are no characters, no conversations, no backstories. Everything in COCOON is told entirely through the actions of the player and the world(s) around them. The story is enigmatic and mysterious, but it never feels empty.
I won't spoil literally anything about it, though, especially because it'd mostly be my own interpretation, anyways. Just know that COCOON's story is driven by the universe in which it takes place, and those worlds are endlessly fascinating. Every detail in every place you explore brings you deeper into those worlds, and helps build that story a little bit more. I loved every moment.
COCOON review: Gameplay and puzzles
Gameplay & puzzles highlights
- The core of COCOON is the puzzles, and they're brilliant.
- The world-containing orbs and their unique abilities open up so many possibilities for a puzzle game.
- Each puzzle is cleverly designed, rewarding the players for open-minded thinking.
Puzzles rest at the heart of COCOON, and it's here that the game truly sets itself apart to become one of the greatest releases of 2023. Each puzzle in COCOON (and there are many, the whole game is puzzles) is intelligently designed to challenge the player to expand their knowledge of the world and its mechanics, reward the player for thinking outside the
box orb, and avoid any frustrating fail-states or locks for "wrong answers."
The puzzles revolve around the orbs, each of which contains a new world and possesses a unique ability. To progress through COCOON and unlock new secrets, players will have to carefully consider every way in which they can use not only the orbs, but the worlds contained inside them. There's nothing frivolous in COCOON — everything can be used, but it's rarely obvious in what ways.
As the game progresses, the puzzles steadily become more complicated and abstract. You'll have to consider every tool at your disposal, and the worlds you can access will slowly entangle themselves, overlapping in unexpected ways as you march toward your goal. Some puzzles in COCOON are difficult and require unorthodox solutions, but none of them ever feel unfair or like they were designed with difficulty in mind.
Instead, COCOON's puzzles are meant to teach players how this universe works, and help unravel the mystery at its center bit by bit. The game never holds your hands or gives you clues as to how to solve each puzzle, but you also never have to worry about making a mistake or failing. COCOON's game design is genuinely impeccable, in that the puzzles are complicated and interesting but only possess a single possible solution. You can't accidentally fail, only realize that your idea won't work. It's brilliant, and perfectly counters the biggest frustration with many puzzle games.
If I had to levy a complaint, it's that late-game puzzles can feel a little tedious with how often you tend to need to shuffle the various orbs around, but that's a minor nitpick in the face of some of the best game design and most interesting puzzles in any game I've ever played. This is Portal-level good.
COCOON review: Accessibility
- COCOON is a simple game that almost anyone can play, but it's still lacking in accessibility.
- Beyond a way to map the game's controls to multiple buttons, there's not much here.
- Those with visual challenges or may require assistance with some of the game's puzzles are out of luck here.
I adore COCOON, but it's certainly not a win for accessibility. While this is a far simpler game that doesn't require nearly the thorough options and features of a game like Forza Motorsport (2023), there's still not enough here to earn a complete pass from me. You get an option to toggle vibration, a way to assign the game's very basic controls to multiple buttons simultaneously (aiding those with physical challenges), a basic master volume slider, a brightness slider, and a handful of languages for the interface.
There aren't any options for visual impairments, for example, so those with colorblindness and other visual challenges may struggle a lot to play COCOON. The game also lacks an in-game interface entirely, so some people may struggle with understanding the mechanics or how to progress. If you do get totally stuck on a puzzle, there's no option for tips or hints. There are a lot of ways COCOON could be more accessible to those with disabilities or challenges, and there are lots of ways COCOON could be more approachable to more casual or younger gamers.
COCOON is far from the least accessible and approachable puzzle game I've played, though, and that's mainly because the core game design is so rock solid. I'd just like to see more investment in this area from every developer and game.
COCOON review: Should you play this?
Once I started playing COCOON, I basically didn't stop until I had finished it a little over five hours later. It's as if I fell into COCOON's world through one of its orbs, safely ensconced until I had discovered the solution to every puzzle. And those puzzles are glorious. No matter how simple or complicated, each puzzle perfectly complimented the game's vivid world, escalating to an epic conclusion unlike any I've experienced.
Sometimes, the answer to a puzzle came to me almost immediately, bolstered by my growing knowledge of the game's mechanics. Other times, I was forced to pause and rethink my efforts. More than once, I impulsively attempted a wild, ridiculous idea, only to discover that it was the actual solution. These moments gave me that elusive, hard-to-describe elation that only comes from encountering perfect game design that meets the player where they're at; from overcoming a challenging obstacle by thinking outside of your box, not confining yourself to what the game wants you to do.
COCOON is a nearly perfect puzzle game, and I am sad that I have already seen and played all it has to offer. I'm also grateful that I played it, because it's one of my favorite gaming experiences of 2023, up there with Hi-Fi RUSH, Resident Evil 4 (2023), and Star Wars Jedi: Survivor. It's an unforgettable experience that I strongly encourage everyone to seek out. Fortunately, it's easy to do so, as COCOON is available on practically every platform and is a day one addition to Xbox Game Pass.
A gripping world, beautifully detailed visuals and animations, and some of the most intelligent and magical puzzle design of any game this generation — COCOON is a must-play title of 2023.
Zachary Boddy (They / Them) is a Staff Writer for Windows Central, primarily focused on covering the latest news in tech and gaming, the best Xbox and PC games, and the most interesting Windows and Xbox hardware. They have been gaming and writing for most of their life starting with the original Xbox, and started out as a freelancer for Windows Central and its sister sites in 2019. Now a full-fledged Staff Writer, Zachary has expanded from only writing about all things Minecraft to covering practically everything on which Windows Central is an expert, especially when it comes to Microsoft. You can find Zachary on Twitter @BoddyZachary.