Monument Valley Review: Uncanny Valley

monument-valley-headerI’ve never been much of a mobile gamer but that’s probably prejudices getting in the way. When I hear about a mobile game, I immediately think of a free-to-play game of fairly low quality and nearly impossible to play without dumping a pile of money into microtransactions.

Monument Valley isn’t one of those games. You have to pay up-front but you also don’t have to pay microtransactions and the gameplay is quite good. Unlike the stereotypical mobile fare, you could actually call Monument Valley a real video game.

Like many other puzzle games, Monument Valley has its own unique spin on the puzzle game. In this instance, the puzzle mechanics are based around the forced perspective style similar to that of Dutch artist M.C. Escher. The solution to each level would be to rotate and move pieces of a level in order to navigate to the end of it.

monument-valley-screenshot-01This being Escher-style, when you move the level around, from a certain perspective, paths that seemed impossible to navigate now look like you can walk across them and so they become traversable even if they wouldn’t be from any other perspective. While many puzzle games get you to flex those brain muscles, Monument Valley has you use your eyes and trust only them. Sure, other puzzle games have done that this is the one that I’ve played that has done it the best.

The puzzles aren’t particularly complex. Each of the ten levels introduces a new element to the puzzle that you have to use as part of the solution. Sometimes the level spins. Some levels have other pieces and platforms you can move. You have a totem that you can slide separately of your character to activate switches or help you move from one area to the next. The way all these elements are introduced keeps you from being overwhelmed and acts as a hint to help you get through each level as you get an idea of what the trick is that you’re looking for.

I should mention that Monument Valley has a story but it’s rather inconsequential to the gameplay. Near as I could piece together, you’re Princess Ida who is navigating through monuments, called sacred geometry in canon, to reach the exits because somehow this will help you figure out how your civilization fell. Or something like that. Other than Portal, are you really playing a puzzle game for anything other than the puzzles?

monument-valley-screenshot-02In the case of Monument Valley, there actually is another reason to buy it. The graphics are absolutely gorgeous. I’m not saying that this is the best graphics that I’ve seen in a mobile game. That actually goes without saying. I’m saying that this is the best looking game that I’ve seen since Journey which tops my all-time list for best graphics. TotalBiscuit said that you could take any screenshot of this game and hang a print of it as art. I think that’s about as good a way to describe how phenomenal this game looks.

The underrated part of this game was the music and sound design. I know Mountain (on the PC) was supposed to be a very calming and meditative game but I never really felt that. Mostly confusion because the world kept spinning faster and so did all the fans in my computer. Fortunately, cooling isn’t one of those things you have to worry too much about with mobile games.

The soundtrack and the sound effects in this game are absolutely amazing. They tell a story all their own while being calming and soothing so you never feel stressed regardless of how stumped the puzzles are making you (not that they’ll really do that). Actually, the music and sounds remind me a lot of Journey too. The music is every bit as gorgeous as the graphics and they’re just as important to the enjoyment of the game.

One little draw back that people might have is that Monument Valley isn’t a particularly long game. The ten levels of the main game will take you about an hour to play through (give or take). When you throw in the $3.99 price tag, people might get a little leery about buying a short game, especially on iOS or Android where the two storefronts have scads of free (or free-to-play) games. I could see why people wouldn’t go for Monument Valley even if it’s worth it.

monument-valley-screenshot-03One good thing about MV is that you can either play this in one go or come back to it one level at time. Personally, I played a level or two at a time which meant play sessions were five to fifteen minutes long depending on the number of levels I played and how difficult they were. I didn’t find the value proposition to be lacking (especially considering that MGSV:GZ was $20 for about as much content) but, again, not everyone is thinking that way in the mobile space.

I refer to a main game because there is a DLC/expansion pack called Forgotten Shores. It’s an eight level expansion pack that adds another hour or so to the game for $1.99.

While there isn’t a story in Forgotten Shores to the same extent that there is in the main game, the real change is in terms of the puzzles. The puzzles in the main campaign weren’t particularly challenging. I think I had to look up a walk through for one of them because I didn’t clue in that I could slide one piece of that level. In Forgotten Shores, I looked up help for the last three levels because I was stumped.

Usually, I don’t particularly care for being lost in a puzzle game. Granted, I’ve never been particularly good at puzzles but impossible puzzles, to me, scream of breaking or stretching the logical boundaries of the rules of the puzzle. Only once would I level that accusation at the Forgotten Shores DLC when it looked like I was walking across walls and around the outside of corners when it looked like I would have been able to do that in any other corner. But that would be the only instance of what I’d call rule breaking in puzzle design.

Conclusion

So this is my first go at reviewing a mobile game and I hope that I can review more that are as good as Monument Valley. When the only real criticism that you can level at a game is that it’s short, I don’t think that you can consider that an overwhelming reason not to get it. Heck, there’s the Forgotten Shores DLC to double the game time for half of the original asking price. I can’t believe I’m selling DLC but I think it’s just as integral to the experience as the main game.

If I had played Monument Valley in 2014, it would have certainly made its way onto my list of my favourite games of 2014. I hope Ustwo sends me a press release so that I don’t miss their next game. This was fantastic. Though I think you got that idea by now.

Rating: 9.0/10

Monument Valley was reviewed on Android but is also available for iOS. Your impressions may differ based on platform played on, device played on and whether you’re terrified of being trapped in an M.C. Escher painting.

Cross-posted from et geekera. For more from et geekera, follow us on FacebookTwitterGoogle+Tumblr, Steam and RSS.

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