Developer: ustwo
Price: $3.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0.3
Device Reviewed On: iPad Mini Retina

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★★
Controls Rating: ★★★★☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★★½☆
Replay Value Rating: ★★★☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★★★☆

Monument Valley – ustwo’s puzzling adventure game where players must twist and turn an Escherian world to discover its secrets, able to tell protagonist Princess Ida where to go and with various levers and twisting points that they can manipulate – can be approached and analyzed in two ways. One is purely as an experience. The other is as a game.

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As a game, Monument Valley is really quite short: it’s 75 to 90 minutes long across 10 levels that pose few threats to players. There’s maybe one puzzle in the entire game that made me really confused. Those who can’t comprehend the Escher-esque levels and designs, (that perspective can mess with one’s head) will probably have a hard time with the game. Those who have an eye for it will likely breeze through it. There’s not much in the way of replay value as there’s no time being kept for a level, which is a shame as it would be a fantastic way to promote coming back. As well, if there are any secrets they’re really, really well-hidden, which is a shame because this kind of game would promote hiding things. Its clear Fez inspiration sure had plenty of secrets of its own, so why not this too? The story isn’t really engaging – it’s ethereal and always felt out of touch to me, except for one moment that focuses on emotion rather than narrative. It’s not a perfect game.

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But as an experience, its flaws are secondary. The world of Monument Valley is intricately-created. The game can be mind-bending as the world shifts to the player manipulating its levels and rotating everything to create new perspectives, but it is never cruel: it is meant for the player to discover what its tricks are. Players will learn about perspective and how to tweak it. The game’s rules ultimately do make sense, particularly the “players can only go where they can see Ida” rule, making everything about what the player sees and perceives. That everything comes together so elegantly is a massive credit to ustwo for managing to nail something so tricky. The world is incredible (play this on a retina iPad if possible), and I can only hope that there’s more to see at some point down the road.

I find myself really conflicted by Monument Valley. On one hand, it’s so beautiful, an absolute artistic triumph that I don’t regret having experienced – and anyone who puts in the time and money won’t regret it. But as a game, it felt like it could have worked better, done more with this incredible world. I suppose the best way to look at it is that Monument Valley‘s ‘game’ is a delivery system for experiencing the incredible world. But it could be better.


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