Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Review: Monument Valley

I’m not actually sure how Monument Valley was made. It seems like it would take a very strange mode of non-euclidean thinking to design its levels and puzzles, not to mention programming the thing. Was it worth the effort? Well, it depends on what you hope to get out of it.

Monument Valley is a surreal puzzle game based around Escher-esque environments and manipulation of perspective. It’s hard to describe in words, but many of the environments that you’ll be traversing in Monument Valley are physical impossibilities, made “real” in the game only through the use of a fixed camera perspective.

Navigating these worlds is a surreal experience that never quite loses its novelty as the game goes on. It always feels just a little bit strange to see two platforms with a great apparent difference in height joined by a straight horizontal walkway. The visual design of the levels is beautiful, with classic optical illusions given new life simply by the fact that you’re walking through them. It forces you to think in ways that most puzzle games don’t. Where the fun in a game like Portal is in constantly seeing and discovering new ways to use an established and consistent mechanic, the fun in Monument Valley is in seeing what new way the game is going to break geometry this time. It stimulates a different part of the brain - one that doesn’t get a lot of attention from puzzle games.

Of course, because the rules in Monument Valley change with every level, puzzles are by necessity very easy. Ninety percent of the game can be completed simply by walking forward as far as possible, moving the terrain until it’s possible to keep moving forward, and repeating until finished. There are a few genuinely clever and engaging puzzles in Monument Valley, but the vast majority felt like simply going through the motions.

Still, despite the general ease of the puzzles, the game never failed to engage my interest. I said that what Monument Valley is worth depends on what you hope to get out of it, and this is what I mean. For someone looking for a good puzzle game experience, Monument Valley is unlikely to satisfy that itch, but if you’re looking for a surreal sightseeing tour of impossible geometry, then the puzzles do an excellent job of providing an excuse to traverse its bizarre yet beautiful architecture.

Find it on iOS | (Android version coming)

Released: 4/3/2014
Developer: ustwo


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