Critical Play: Monument Valley
Monument Valley is a beautiful, stimulating, yet very simple puzzle game. The player can only control two things: Ida the Princess and the ground. The Princess will go to any square the player chooses, as long as she has a path to get there. The ground will sometimes allow the player to move it, either by rotating or sliding. And those are the only two things a player can do! It’s very quick to figure out, and just as quick to master! The most difficult conceptual thing to understand is that while the puzzles are in 3D, Ida can walk along anything that connects in the 2D world, meaning as long as two planes look like they connect on the screen, Ida can walk across them, even if they are technically on different levels. This adds an extra challenge to the gameplay, but is not too tricky to figure out.
The mechanics are built beautifully, allowing the player to effortlessly determine what can move and what can’t. The first level (pictured below) acts like a very short tutorial, where it introduces the core concepts that connect all puzzles. From there, the player is left to their own devices to figure out additional puzzle elements like buttons, crows, and changing gravity.
What I Liked
The puzzles were elegant, and always fun. While playing this game, I realized that the reason I liked these levels is because you can’t mess up. There was never any way to make an irreversibly wrong move, so I felt free to explore and try different options until I got the answer. Similarly, there was no way to lose. When the crows were first introduced, I though Ida might die if she ran into the crow. Instead, the crow simply blocked her path, meaning I needed to make some changes to my strategy, but I could continue the puzzle, and not feel stressed around further crows. This led to peaceful, enjoyable gameplay. I also thought the design was so zen, and worked really well with the underlying design of the puzzles.
My favorite puzzle was in Level 9. The puzzle was one box, but it was modeled after one of those magical boxes where, depending on how you open it, it contains a different object or image.
What I Didn’t Like
I had a few problems with this game, but all were minor. My biggest problem was the fact that you had to pay for the game, but there were so few levels. I spent $4 on the game, but finished all the levels in less than an hour and a half (according to my screen time app). I want to be clear: I didn’t mind spending money on the game. The game was developed very well, with a lot of innovative puzzles, and the developers should absolutely be compensated for that. Plus, the app didn’t contain any ads, which led to seamless gameplay, which I really enjoyed! So I totally understand and respect the need to make an app that costs money for purchase. However, for $4 dollars, I would expect at least 4 hours of gameplay, hopefully more. One way some developers do this is to have an ‘endless mode,’ so that even after the levels are finished, the app is still useful. Another possibility is to have a level builder, so players can spend time making their own levels, and playing other player’s levels. Instead, right now, the app is completely done — the only reason I would reopen it would be to show the game to friends — so I feel like I shouldn’t have spent $4.
Speaking of the seamless gameplay, part of the experience and story was Ida finishing the level, the level closing up, and returning to the menu screen for the player to select the next level. The entire process from one level to the next took about 45 seconds, which I didn’t appreciate. I was playing for the puzzles, and the design was a nice accompaniment, but spending so much time between levels, when it was only design, seemed egregious and frankly, boring. Anytime I left the game, it was never in the middle of a puzzle, it was instead in between levels, after about 20 seconds of waiting.
Finally, the story was unclear to me. Every once in a while, Ida would come across a genie figure and there would be a dialogue about how this society was once great, but it eventually crumbled, and Ida shouldn’t have come back. The idea of the story was cute, and I looked forward to meeting the genie again to get more of the story so I would start to understand, but the end of the game came and I was just as lost as I started. I think the writers were trying to stay away from a clear plot, and instead be more mysterious, but I would have appreciated a little more clarity.
In conclusion, I really liked this game. I thought the puzzles were clever and very enjoyable, and allowed me to explore and enjoy the game, stress free. However, I didn’t feel like it was worth the price, so I would advise my friends to be on the lookout for a discount, and grab it when the price dips.