The puzzle game Cocoon is impossibly good

Atop my back, the world gently jostles. An orange orb contains within it a whole planet. I am an insect, possibly organic in nature, or mechanical, or both. I am no Atlas, and yet this feat of impossible strength is not beyond me. I place the orb on a pedestal and kneel before it, launching into the air before diving headfirst into this other world. Orange orb becomes orange world, and within it, there are more mysteries.

Cocoon is the debut game from Geometric Interactive, founded by former Playdead employees Jakob Schmid and Jeppe Carlsen. Carlsen was the lead gameplay designer for Limbo and Inside, and his influence is prevalent here, albeit with about 100% more color and 85% less horror. (There is still the occasional undulating biomass.) Similar to Limbo and Inside, Cocoon is a short but memorable experience, a single-button puzzler with evocative visuals that starts quietly and ends on a spectacular crescendo.

It is difficult to say with precision what Cocoon is about. Metamorphosis, perhaps, but also stasis. Order and disorder. The cosmos and the biosphere. The end, the beginning, and their interrelation. Entirely wordless, Cocoon’s narrative is evocative but elusive. Everything is gesture and implication. What is parasite and what is symbiote is left for you to decide. It’s the rare game that leaves this much room for interpretation, a deliberate ambiguity that complements Cocoon’s satisfying but linear puzzles.

The small protagonist of Cocoon travels down a giant hive-like being Image: Geometric Interactive/Annapurna Interactive via Polygon

The game begins with a birth. A streak of light strikes a mountain, traveling down and into a metallic cocoon at its base, which shudders and opens, revealing the player character: a bipedal insectoid most closely resembling a beetle.

You begin to wander. Initial puzzles are simple — just switches or pulleys. Quickly, though, you find a strange apparatus on the ground: a metallic grate with off-white tendrils poking through its vents. You kneel on it, and suddenly you are launched up and out of the world, into a dark room with an orange orb. Then, something sinister awakens and dives into the orange orb. You carry the orb out and away, into a new world where you use it to solve switch puzzles.

The game can initially feel simplistic. Early challenges involve placing the orb on receptacles to open doors or power bridges. Hardly novel stuff. Defeating the first boss unlocks a new ability for the orb — the ability to reveal invisible orange platforms — but even that, audiovisually pleasing though it is, is mostly just a means by which to uncover more pathways to orb receptacles that open doors or power bridges.

But simplicity, in Cocoon, is short-lived.

The titular Cocoon in Cocoon, before it opens up to reveal the insect-like protagonist Image: Geometric Interactive/Annapurna Interactive via Polygon

It isn’t until Cocoon introduces a second orb to the equation that the game’s complexity comes into focus. Suddenly, it isn’t just about bouncing between two worlds, but three. And now, it isn’t just about moving between them, but layering them. You can place the green orb inside the orange orb by leaving the green orb inside the orange world, then popping back to the overworld, where you can pick up the orange orb again, now with a green orb floating inside it. Confusing? Strap in. I won’t spoil how many orbs you’re expected to juggle by the game’s end, each with their own special ability, but by Cocoon’s conclusion, my initial hesitations had all but vanished in the face of the game’s inventiveness and pitch-perfect pacing. Devious but fair, Cocoon does not lack for difficulty or the ability to astound.

Cocoon’s sound design deserves ample praise alongside its visuals and gameplay. A gorgeous synth soundtrack accompanies your journey, occasionally threaded with a dampened piano glissando that never fails to inspire dread. The game plays a particular melody when you’ve solved a puzzle, but cleverly, it begins to play just as you’re approaching the solution, creating this pleasing interval where you feel not only smart but sure of yourself — which is good, because you’re going to need that surety to see the game through to its conclusion.

The insect-like protagonist of Cocoon pauses before a bridge in a desert environment Image: Geometric Interactive/Annapurna Interactive via Polygon

Cocoon is not long, but it is dense. My initial playthrough clocked in at around four hours, and I added another two hours to my playtime by seeking out the remaining Moon Ancestors, optional puzzles that are hidden throughout the game. I wouldn’t want it to be longer, however. Cocoon is a perfectly edited game, narrowed down to its most essential elements, presented without filler. It’s the kind of game you’ll wish you could experience again for the first time, delighting at the complexity its developers were able to wring out of a game controlled with a single button.

A late-game puzzle involves the creation of an impossibility. Something that seems to break the game’s rules, and yet doesn’t, under the ever-thickening logic of Cocoon. It was at that moment that I knew Cocoon was a complete game — one that sees through every permutation of its conceit. Thorough, I think, is the best word to describe it.

Geometric Interactive has created an impossibility with Cocoon. It’s a joyful, improbable experience that will leave you transformed.

Cocoon will be released Sept. 29 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Windows PC, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. The game was reviewed on PC using a pre-release download code provided by Annapurna Interactive. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.