Review: Monument Valley

Developer: Ustwo - Publisher: Ustwo - Platforms: iOS, Android - Release Date: April 3, 2014

Concept: Tap a small princess through beautiful M.C. Escher-style environments

Graphics: A calming pastel color palette and sharp visuals make this as easy on the eyes as it is to play

Sound: The pleasant score is little more than background noise

Playability: Tap, swipe, it's all in the rhythm. Well, not so much rhythm, but you know what I mean

Entertainment: An enjoyable puzzler that concludes just as it begins showing it's true potential

Replay Value: Very Low

A Pretty, Though Short-Lived, Enigma

Monument Valley is far from the first game to find inspiration in the work of M.C. Escher, but it's definitely one of the prettiest. Players lead a princess named Ida through a series of clean, colorful worlds made up of impossibly designed staircases and walkways. Visually, this game looks outstanding, especially the elaborate animations in which the stages unfold, but beauty is only skin-deep. Does a substantial experience lie underneath those good looks?

Ida isn't controlled directly, but rather walks automatically to whatever point the player taps. Tapping or swiping special areas causes either the entire stage or independent sections of it to rotate, bringing different sides into view. Changing the viewing angle can cause separate platforms to become a unified path, similar to games such as Fez. Turning platforms the princess is standing on to different degrees allows her to traverse the stage at that angle. For example, flipping her upside down lets her explore the area as such. Finding a way to the exit is usually the goal, but you'll sometimes have to activate a series of nodes before doing so.

About mid-way through, the game introduces a totem pole-like block that can be controlled independently as well as serve as a moving platform that the princess can use to reach higher areas. These were my favorite levels, as I had to figure out how to use the block and Ida in tandem to activate nodes requiring two characters which could be a little tricky. For instance, the block can be used in certain, rotating sections that Ida cannot. Thoughtful maneuvering is also required to ensure that you don't obstruct Ida's path with the block. I wish there had been more of these puzzles that grew more complicated, such as introducing two or more blocks to the equation.

Black, crow-like creatures serve as the only real obstacles but are minor inconveniences at best. You can't walk through them, so you'll simply have to wait for them to pass by before proceeding which isn't much of a problem. Also, coming in contact with the crows doesn't harm you in any way, eliminating any sense of danger or urgency. There are, however, some clever instances where you have to manipulate their route so that the crows activate switches for you.

As far as difficulty goes, Monument Valley is definitely on the easier side of the spectrum. One or two swipes is usually all it takes for the pieces of a stage to fall mostly into place and I was never stumped or even really challenged. When true complexity does begin to show itself, the game is ends.

That's unfortunate because, despite being a relative cakewalk, I enjoyed Monument Valley. However, its brevity and potential for added depth left me wanting more. With only ten chapters, it's designed to be a quick and engaging, though stress-free, diversion in between daily activities. That's all well and good, but I wish it was as stimulating as it is attractive.

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