Monument Valley came to Android a week ago after attracting roughly a million downloads on iOS in the one month since its release. That’s no small number, but it doesn’t take much time with the game to understand why (a good thing, considering just how little time you’re going to spend playing it). Monument Valley has been put together pixel by pixel, with the game offering no more nor less than it needs to provide an absolutely captivating experience.
Monument Valley is a series of M.C. Escher paintings come to life. Each of the puzzle adventure game’s ten stages plop players down on a piece of impossible looking architecture and tasks them with manipulating stairs and walkways so that the silent Princess Ida can navigate to the goal. The concept will seem somewhat familiar to people who have played Fez, and it may even provide a sense of déjà vu for anyone who experienced Echochrome on the PlayStation Portable. Yet like most works of art, success has little to do with being the first to do something and everything to do with getting it right. Monument Valley, in short, nails it.
The gameplay here is simple. To control Princess Ida, players simply tap on the spot she should walk to. If a path is available, she will start moving. If one isn’t, then she’s staying put. Typically getting from point A to point B requires rotating or raising a part of the environment, but there are sometimes other obstacles that get in the way. The levels are designed to play tricks on you, and these optical illusions don’t have to make physical sense to serve as successful paths for Ida to traverse.
Here’s the biggest issue with the Monument Valley – it will take me more time to write the remainder of this review than it did to play through the entirety of game. Heck, depending on how long you allow this tab to loiter in your browser, it may take you longer to finish reading this than to download and complete it yourself. Monument Valley is short, and it shouldn’t take much more than an hour or two to complete.
The thing is, I don’t care. Every minute of the experience is planned out, highly-polished, and refreshingly engaging. There’s no fluff here, as the game contains several gameplay mechanics that appear once and only once, disappearing before they can grow tedious. Whenever I thought I was coming upon a new element that would change all the level designs going forward, I realized that I would never see some of them again. The game’s short length means things just don’t have time to grow stale.
Monument Valley signs into Google+ and supports cloud saves. I’m happy to report, after beating the game on my Nexus 5 and later picking it back up on my Nexus 7, that the feature works just fine. Unfortunately, there was nothing to do. After the game’s over, it’s over. There’s the built-in option to take screenshots and share them with a social network, but that does little to expand on the title’s longevity (or rather, its lack thereof).
The Other Stuff
Monument Valley’s pixels aren’t particularly exhilarating, but they succeed in conveying everything the atmosphere requires of them. Even more importantly, they do not hinder the gameplay in any way. When a puzzle is proving to be particularly challenging, it’s not because of poor art or a bad choice of perspective. When pieces rotate, they go or connect where you would expect them to. The pathways are small, but they’re easy enough to navigate, and the levels are designed in such a way that players will only occasionally intend to send Ida somewhere and accidentally send her somewhere else, despite how crazy the environments get.
There isn’t much music to be found in Monument Valley, nor are there voice overs, but I would still consider this a game best played with good speakers or headphones. The developers have paid so much attention to crafting the game that each note is deliberately timed. With the sound off, you may get to see Ida’s isolation, but you won’t feel it.
Though it may not seem like it, there’s a plot moving Monument Valley forward. The game doesn’t have any voice overs (hey, leave those earbuds in, did you not read the last paragraph?), but there’s still occasional dialogue. It reads more like a riddle than a script, and there are maybe two dozen sentences in the entire game, but when the story comes to an end, there’s little confusion. I felt moved by the game’s ending, if only slightly.
Should You Play It?
Monument Valley costs $3.99, and while you might get a couple of hours of playtime out of it, don’t count on it. In terms of longevity, this just isn’t a game that’s going to justify the cost. But really, four bucks isn’t all that much money, especially considering how much a movie ticket would cost to provide entertainment for a similar length of time. This shouldn’t be a question of how long the game is and more a question of how good.
That second question is a no-brainer, as I can easily recommend Monument Valley to any mobile gamer, whether they be casual newcomers or jaded console expats. Furthermore, a game of this type simply would not be the same were it sustained by ads. Developer ustwo has clearly put a good deal of thought, effort, and talent into creating Monument Valley, and that deserves to be rewarded.