Why Monument Valley is the most beautiful game ever

Have you ever played a game that blew your mind because of the amazing graphics and user experience? Have you ever played a game that changed your way of thinking about gaming altogether?

If you have played Monument Valley, you have the specific idea about what I am about to say. Monument Valley is a game developed by Ustwo games. It was released in 2014 and has already won 20 design awards and earned over $14 million dollars in revenue. Check out their recent stats below.

Image Credit: Monument Valley in Numbers: Year 2

My First Interaction

I heard about this game from one of my friends in our UX class. He suggested we play the game and observe the overall UX. Initially, I couldn’t care less about downloading it, but when I heard all the same enthusiasm from my other friends I was curious to play. Everyone seemed mesmerized and was talking about it. I paid the $3.99 and downloaded the game.

I remember the night I downloaded the app, I put my headphones on and started the game. The moment the zen-like music started it gave me goosebumps up and down my spine and I was totally immersed in the game. The sound, graphics, and the puzzles made me fall in love with it in an instant.

Game Plot

While playing, I did not understand the game plot. The gameplay feels mysterious. The main character, “Ida”, seems to be in search of some geometric structures. And finally, when she finds those structures she becomes free. There is no violence in the game and nothing scary. Only the crow-like creatures try to scare Ida whenever she passes them. I wanted to know more about the game plot, the characters, and her purpose. If you decide to play, you will have similar questions as I had. So here is the game plot.

Ida ventures into a place called “Monument Valley,” where she is tasked to return all the monuments she previously stole. As she ventures, she meets a ghost who interacts with Ida. She later meets the crows and a helpful totem.
At the end of the game, when she has given back all the geometry she stole, Princess Ida is forgiven and is turned back into a white crow with a crown atop her head. (Information Source: monument valley wiki)

First Impression

It was 12 am when I downloaded the game and started playing. I planned to play for 15–20 minutes thinking that I needed to wake up early in the morning. The first tune of music and visuals just captivated my attention. I was so mesmerized by the experience that when I finished playing the game, it was 2.30 am. The environment colors, the isometric structures, and the characters created a stunning gaming experience. See some of the gameplay screenshots below.

Image courtesy http://www.monumentvalleygame.com/

User Experience

After playing the game, I wanted to understand what makes this game so immersive. What are the UX factors that makes Monument Valley so good? To understand the overall UX, I analyzed the game in four different methods.

My Mental Model

In my mental model, all the puzzle games revolve around thinking and planning. It depends on what pieces fit together, what is my result, and how I can connect the dots.

In any puzzle game, a player spends a lot of time thinking, and planning ahead.

The player needs to know

  • what they can do
  • what the consequences of their actions are
  • where they want to go

If there is only one possible action to take, then there is no need to plan a strategy. If there are many actions a player can take, and only one of them will fail, then the player can solve the puzzle by trying all the possible actions at each step. In this case, the game becomes boring.

If the player does not know the available paths of action or the consequences of their actions, then there is nothing exciting to think in the game. In this case, the puzzle game can only be solved by force. This strategy does not excite the player in any way. These games will feel more like a riddle than a puzzle game.

Psychology

Gaming is a voluntary activity. Gamers choose to play games according to their likes or interests. There are millions of games to choose from, yet only a handful of games are doing well in the gaming world. All the gaming companies strive to create beautiful, easy to learn, yet difficult to play puzzles that are not boring to a player.

In Monument Valley, the instructions come at the right time. The end goal is clear and easy to understand. It’s hard to solve the puzzle. There were times when I was just one step away from the ultimate aim, but I was still finding it difficult to achieve the goal. That is the most powerful attraction technique for any game. Gamers always try to solve the puzzle and find answers to meet the goal. The difficulty at the last level makes the game more interesting to solve.

Usability

Usability of any game is defined by the following factors. Let’s explore these factors one by one for Monument Valley

1. Buttons and Interactions: The actions are simple and easy to understand. You simply click where you want to go and Ida will go there. The action blocks are signified by small cylinders on their edges, and they can get you going. If the action block is not available when Ida is walking, the cylinders become inactive. So simple and effective.

2. On-screen real estate: The entire game environment and buildings are designed keeping “isometry” in mind. Usability wise, this gives a unique vertical real estate to the game. Usability wise, this is perfect because people do not mind going up and down in a game.

3. The response to your action (feedback): A click on Ida’s path gives you an audiovisual feedback for your action. That sound and the visual is subtle and appealing to both eyes and ears. The end of the level music piece and the character interactions are mesmerizing and provide perfect response or rewards to the actions.

4. Intellectual interruptions and exits: The levels are not lengthy and time-consuming. Even though we have to start the entire level each time we exit the game, we are not missing out on a whole lot, so players don’t feel bad if they have to leave the game in between.

5. Quick starting and level transition: The game takes a moderate amount of time to load the levels, but while playing the game all the levels have beautiful transition and a story. I was looking forward to starting a new level. This game kept my enthusiasm at an all-time high with its beautiful transitions.

Ustwo games has done a phenomenal job in acing all the usability parameters and creating perfect psychology for the players. These are the important aspects that created these revenues for the company.

Summary

All in all, Monument Valley has enriched my gaming expectations with delightful audiovisual experiences. This game satisfied my mental model of playing a puzzle game in every sense. Because of all of the above mentioned reasons, I find Monument Valley the most beautiful game I have ever played. I highly recommend all of you to download the game and have the experience of all time. As you can see, I am totally psyched by Monument Valley, and I am looking forward to another game by the team. Also, if you love zen-like music please check out all the awesome Monument Valley soundtracks here.

Thank you for reading the article. I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

What has been your favorite experience playing Monument Valley?

What other games do you recommend that offer an amazing experience by design for players?