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Monument Valley Review


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On 04/14/2014 at 03:00 PM by Matt Snee

“Sacred geometry.”
RECOMMENDATION:

“For puzzle fanatics who also loved the abstract opera of Journey.”

Every so often, I am lucky enough to play a game so delightful, so perfectly engineered for its platform, and so inspiring that I have to take a step back, stunned.  While other arts such as literature and painting seem long in the tooth these days, clutching to cynicism and nihilism like a terminal patient clinging to the sheets in his bed, great games seem imbued with a sort of impossible optimism and generosity towards the human condition.  Monument Valley, a game about redemption through sacred geometry, is one of those games. 

It’s easy to forget that our lives are built around amazing feats of engineering and mathematics, and in earlier times these disciplines were treated with a sort of pious awe, while these days we consider them second rate talents, or at best, “job skills”.  Most of us sit in math class agonizing over how we can escape equations, rather than how we can find redemption through them, but in certain pockets of civilization the ancient reverence lives on.  Not all of us were made to enjoy math, though most of us were made to enjoy the fruits of it. 

Monument Valley is a puzzle game composed of tricks of geometry rather than opaque formulas, but math is math.  Inspired by the works of M.C. Escher and other master illusionists, the game is a treat of worlds that could never exist in our universe outside of a dream or an illustration – until now, where they exist in a video game. 

Perfectly designed for the often inspiring but also often maligned gaming medium of the tablet, the game perhaps could also work on a console or a PC, but it is effortless with a touch screen, and in fact sometimes the game requires you to spin the screen entirely around as you look for new perspectives in the puzzles – something that’s hard to do with a TV or computer monitor.  Turning the iPad around, flipping the world upside down and sideways, is key to solving the myriad of puzzles.  Our eyes and our logic can deceive us, and sometimes we need to twist and turn until we see the answer. 

The premise of the game is simple: Navigate a young princess through obstacles on ten different levels, each larger and more geometrically diabolical than the last.  While the princess is mostly limited to pressing buttons, you (the player) have more control, as you can maneuver the levels using levers and blocks to rearrange things and afford the princess access to areas that she would not be able to reach without your help.  By manipulating the levels – spinning them, lifting them, twirling them –and guiding the princess around, you will not only beat the game, but also offer solace to the ancient people who built these puzzles – or monuments – in the first place. 

This slight but sincere mythology, which infuses the game with a sort of human light the way the abstract story of Journey did, is both mysterious and austere.  While it is simple almost to the point of formlessness, it also hints at a greater story that doesn’t need telling – in Monument Valley, only the essential remains. 

The puzzles start of easy, and the player might start thinking he or she is quite clever as they quickly navigate the first few levels.  But soon enough, the puzzles get pretty difficult, and ultimately will have one thinking hard and spinning the tablet around almost endlessly.  The imaginary geometry is never too tough to grasp, though, and by bending what we take for granted about reality, the player will happily solve all the puzzles in the game. 

The game is a delight.  Whether you’re rotating the world upside down to connect stairs that couldn’t possibly be connected, or tricking a grumpy crow into pressing a button, or even riding a kindly anthropomorphic totem, the game is sheer fun.  While short (I completed it in two hours), Monument Valley is a monument in and of itself, and it not only reminds me of the amazing power of video games, but of the great goodness of life itself.  

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

Pacario

04/14/2014 at 05:29 PM

Reminds me a bit of Echochrome, blended, as you said, with some of Journey's abstract existentialism. Anyway, nice review; guess I can pass on reviewing this one in my own posts! (At least for now.)

Matt Snee Staff Writer

04/14/2014 at 05:31 PM

did you play it?  I really liked it, as you can see.  we don't review a lot of iOS games, but this one was special. 

Pacario

04/14/2014 at 05:36 PM

Haven't played it yet, but will eventually. These are the sort of games I like to focus on due to how often they go overlooked by the mainstream or hardcore gamer. That said, this game is still in the top ten on the App store, so someone is playing it.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

04/14/2014 at 07:12 PM

i definitely recommend it.  Not a big commitment either, it's short. 

BrokenH

04/14/2014 at 07:16 PM

MC Escher makes games too? Wink 

Matt Snee Staff Writer

04/14/2014 at 07:20 PM

actually, it's really neat how the game uses MC Escher type brain puzzles.  I was really impressed.  I remember loving those paintings when I was a kid, and here I got to play in them.   Laughing

daftman

04/17/2014 at 10:02 PM

Hey, great review! You obviously put your heart in it, something lacking in critical writing all too often. I have this in my watch list, so I'll play it sooner or later. It just looks so pretty.

Matt Snee Staff Writer

04/17/2014 at 10:44 PM

thanks, it was really a great experience. 

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