Think Fez, crossed with Echochrome, and you’re partway to understanding how Monument Valley plays.
The debut game from design firm Ustwo may be slight in content – but what content there is, is captivating, beautiful and will have you glued to the screen of your mobile device.
Mechanically, the game is relatively simple; you tap the screen to move your protagonist, Ida, with the goal of helping her reach the exit of the game’s ten levels. Some aspects of each level can be interacted with; rotate a wheel and platforms may rise and fall; swipe left or right, and your perspective on the level might shift – platforms which previously looked as though they couldn’t be reached are now obtainable.
If you’ve played either of the games mentioned in the opening sentence of this review, you’ll be in familiar territory: from one angle, two ledges can be separated by a gulf. Swipe the screen, however, and you can traverse them. In the grand tradition of optical illusions, if something in Monument Valley looks as though it can be traversed, it can be.
Being spread over only ten stages (we hope that more will be released), there isn’t a whole lot of longevity to the game; but that doesn’t particularly matter. Each stage is so beautifully crafted, and so gorgeous in its presentation, that you will appreciate every moment you spend with it. And while it starts off relatively simple, the game throws in new mechanics with every single one of its levels. One level requires you to manipulate a totem pole; another asks you to to gradually peel back the layers of a box, with different areas of the level being revealed depending on which direction you flip its sides open.
The story is slight, being presented through the occasional bit of dialog and the descriptions which present each level. But it isn’t a game that really requires a story; the joy is in the playing. It doesn’t matter why you’re rotating platforms, or opening a giant puzzle box: what matters is that you’ll be enjoying every minute of it.
All of this is presented in a gorgeous art-deco art style. Each stage has it’s own particular visual style that guarantees no two feel alike. Pastel hues contrast with dark night skies, and if you’re the sort of player to take screenshots and set new wallpaper backgrounds on their mobile device, you’ll be in heaven. Monument Valley is never less than attractive.
This minimalist approach also extends to the audio. While there is a degree of ambiance in the game, it isn’t something that batters you over the head with bombast; rather, Monument Valley is a game which impresses with subtlety; music and sound effects are relaxing rather than presented with urgency.
Monument Valley is a game to relax with for a few hours, but one which will stick in the mind after completion – and one which you will want to show off to friends.
The developer describes the game as “an illusory adventure of impossible architecture and forgiveness”. I’m not entirely certain about the last part; but the architecture is certainly impossible.
Monument Valley is a beautiful game. It can’t claim to be entirely original – Fez and Echochrome already tinkered with the idea of perspective-shifting gameplay, for example – but through a combination of its wonderful artstyle and some fantastic level design, it manages to be something rather special.
Mobile gaming is so frequently disparaged as a place for the inept or the greedy; games like Monument Valley show us that it can also be a space for the artistic and the delightful.