Monument Valley created by Ustwo is visually stunning and unique — a class of its own — but it’s mislabeled as a game as it works better as a moving art exhibition.
Inspired by M.C. Escher (literally taking some of his art and putting it in motion), Monument Valley takes advantage of what we see in 2D and applies it to an impossible third dimension. In other words, even if our brain says, “that’s in the background” if it’s adjacent to your platform you can walk on it.
Based on that concept alone, the game should be a riveting puzzler, no? The problem is that you still follow a linear path. From afar each level looks complex with various switches and staircases and blocks to alter the landscape, but ultimately, the levels are segmented so you complete each obstacle independent of one another. For a better analogy, think of a Rubix cube, but instead of solving the whole thing, you only need to solve one side — that’s what Monument Valley is and it makes it entirely devoid of challenge.
That is what I wanted; I wanted the levels to be Rubix cubes. One of the reasons I know this is what I wanted is because the last level is shaped like a multi-pathed box (see below):
This was the last level, but it was the first level I stumbled on and had to think my way through. Ultimately, there are three doors and you can complete them in any order, but in order to reach them, you really need to think and strategize — I actually completed this level the way I would a hand-drawn maze, where I saw what door I wanted to reach and had to follow a reverse path keeping in mind how the level is arranged and what I can move. This is what Monument Valley needed more of. This is quality design as it’s a complete shape and you need to solve it.
Unfortunately, of all 12 (? I think.) levels, this was the only one that combined the art design with actual gaming.
Part of this could have been resolved with failure, a timer, or trophies.
For instance, you cannot die and you cannot irreparably change the level, so there is no danger; no stakes. Had the crows (villains-ish) been able to kill you or had there been a timer counting down how long you had to complete the level, it would’ve added a morsel of suspense. Plus, people like timed trials, so it’d give replayability for people looking to break their personal best records.
And the timer would work with trophies too — note: I’m using the word “trophies” synonymously with “achievements.” If there were rewards scattered throughout Monument Valley across multiple paths in each level then if you did not complete the level properly, it would be impossible to get them all. Two other iOS games (that coincidentally also start with ‘M’) do this exceedingly well: Gamistry’s Munch Time and Disney’s Mittens.
In Munch, you collect stars; in Mittens, you collect diamonds. Although I never purchased the full version of Munch Time, I can say that in Mittens, getting the diamonds increases your score, but moreover, you unlock bonus levels.
In order to unlock new levels in Monument Valley, you need to purchase them, something I was not impressed enough to do.
The Story… or Lack Thereof
Now, there is a story element, but it hardly adds to the experience. You are a princess that stole the powers of geometry and now that you’re feeling guilty, you’re putting them back. That’s it. Truthfully, the plot is unnecessary as is and it slows down the game, but I mention it because the Ustwo team is capable of strong story telling (and without dialogue). In level 6, the subtitle is “In Which Ida Meets The Totem, A Friend,” and, spoiler alert, as you hop on a raft out into the sea, the totem tries to follow and appears to drown in the process. I thought this bleak beyond reason, and in my mind thought, “Well, my future children won’t be playing this.” Fortunately, and spoiler alert, he resurfaces A-OK later and I was genuinely relieved, but it’s that kind of storytelling that leaves an impact, like the horse dying in The Neverending Story.
It’s an interesting concept, but little more than an interactive art show, and this wouldn’t be a bad thing if I wasn’t misled into believing it was a puzzle game. I suppose I shouldn’t write off the new levels so soon considering they created them after it’s initial success, so maybe they’ve done what I wanted, but at the end of the day, they didn’t wow me enough with this one, so why would I bother pursuing more?
PS. That last bit may seem irrational to some, but for additional context, I played Assassin’s Creed (1) and was not wowed, so I quit the series despite the raving reviews and improvements of the sequels. As a customer, once I’m lost, I’m lost.
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