Skip to main content

Cocoon is easily one of the best games at Summer Game Fest 2023

Insect lad's world-hopping adventures are shaping up a treat

A moth boy peers up at a larger moth man who's attached to a tree of some kind in Cocoon
Image credit: Annapurna Interactive

Right folks, listen up: from just 30 minutes of Cocoon, I'm already convinced it's one of the best games here at Summer Game Fest 2023. It's the Annapurna one masterminded by Jeppe Carlsen, the lead gameplay designer for Playdead's Inside. And in the 30 minutes I spent with it, I actually sat up on the sofa and did a colossal goblin lean towards the telly in full view of everyone. I needed to commune properly with the mighty insect lad, who hoists orbs that contain entire worlds onto his back in the game's wonderful mix of puzzler and top-down action. He commanded my full attention and he got it all.

Playing puzzle games at events frightens me, because: 1) my brain is rarely able to overcome a puzzle in public; 2) people might be watching, and therefore, 3) I can hear them sniggering behind my back. I had no such trouble with Cocoon, though, because its challenges tweaked my brain receptors in what can only be described as a gentle brush of the neurons. Wander about as Insect Lad and the map presents you with a slow wave of clues that even someone like me is able to piece together. I think that's thanks to the minimalism of it all.

Watch on YouTube

The game is clean, with the muted curvature of a mouse ball and the warmth of soft putty. I spoke to one of the art leads, who described to me how you won't find any cogs or gears in the world, as there's a focus on organic matter borrowed from sea creatures, insects like the praying mantis, or plain old humans. This lends the puzzling an inherent flow, sort of like you're giving each world a sports massage, undoing all of its knots by placing orbs in the right spots and reuniting its platforms. Where a normal puzzler might have you grab a key and click open a door, Cocoon has you tug an orb only for an elastic tendon to stretch outwards and connect to the equivalent of a hermit crab with a bridge for a home.

I was lucky enough to experience a touch of world-hopping too, as I explored one world which I then happened to carry on my back. The recursive concept might be bonkers ambitious (and very Patrick's Parabox), yet it seemed to work a treat in the short time I played. Hopping between worlds is as you see in the trailer, an instantaneous whizz into another space. And you're encouraged to jump between them in a Metroid-like a manner once you've bagged items that'll let you progress through bits you couldn't before. I eventually got this little triangular robot fella from one world, who I then took into the previous world, and used him to unlock a boss battle with a big robo-moth.

A small moth boy pulls an orb out from a machine in a desert scene in Cocoon
A small moth boy approaches machinery on a bridge in Cocoon
Image credit: Annapurna Interactive
A tiny moth boy carries an orb on their back as they run across a large forest scene in Cocoon
Image credit: Annapurna Interactive

Again, I was bowled over by the encounter with robo-moth, and that's because the game doesn't suddenly morph into a twin-stick shooter; insect lad does not - at least to my knowledge - slide an AK47 out from behind his wings. Instead, the moth becomes a puzzle on-the-fly (not sorry), where you dodge his charges in a small arena, then have to find the gaps between these walls of spiky orbs it generates as they fold into one another. Find the spaces, do the evades, and you'll get a brief chance to grab a special bomb orb which'll knock the moth down a peg. I'm surprised my Garmin watch didn't draw blood, given the spike in my heart rate.

Cocoon is easily one of the highlights here at Summer Game Fest for me, and easily one of the best games I've played here so far. I was worried it was going to be a pure puzzler, in the sense it would focus entirely on intricate orb placements in slightly dull, metallic arenas. Oh no. It's a puzzler which makes exploration a thrill, with a world you're excited to observe and orb-hopping that truly goes places. I've heard from a fellow pal who got to spend a touch more time with the demo that there's a bit where you place an orb within an orb. Sheesh.

NotE3 and Summer Game Fest 2023 is over for another year. You can find out all the latest news by visiting our E3 2023 hub, or you can catch up with our round-up posts of everything that was announced at Summer Game Fest, the Xbox Games Showcase, the PC Gaming Show, Day Of The Devs, and our top highlights from the Wholesome Direct.

Read this next