Monument Valley might be a slight affair, but all it has is realised with care and cleverness. Beautiful, strange and smart, this is most certainly one of 2014’s must-have iOS games.
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Achieving the unusual feat of simultaneously making the brain struggle to understand it and being relaxing, Monument Valley has deservedly been a big iOS hit. Fusing the reality-bending optical illusions of Escher with gentle puzzles and a laid-back, stylised art style, it’s consistently delightful to behold.
In simplest terms it’s a maze game, in which you direct a tiny, silent hero around convoluted screens made from inaccessible platforms and staircases to nowhere, set against startling strange, quietly beautiful scenery. There’s a level exit to reach, and you must adjust what you see in order to build a route to it. No jumping, no fighting, just figuring out offbeat logic. There are enemies of a sort, but they’re there as obstacles, something you fold parts of the world around in order to create a clear route forwards.
When the world is rotated and viewed from another angle, those platforms might suddenly connect to form a path, or an upside staircase pointing into the void becomes steps running straight to the level exit.
Seeing a level come together, all achieved via a few taps and swipes, can be truly magical – please excuse the melodrama, but Monument Valley is a game to inspire it. Simple scenes shift dramatically at the touch of a single finger, and realising how two disparate parts of the screen can interconnect frequently drops the jaw.
Given the leaps of logic required to transform an impossible place into possible pathways, Monument Valley is surprisingly frustration-free. Puzzles are intuitive and reward experimentation, while common visual elements deftly demonstrate what can and can’t be adjusted even as the complexity steadily mounts.
Describing something as Escher-like is probably a fine way to scare a crowd away (even if a resolute few will be extremely intrigued) but Monument Valley manages to be accessible to all comers. It’s true that this achieved by no small amount of smoke and mirrors – there’s a set solution every time, and so little you’re allowed to alter that getting it wrong isn’t really an option, but crucially solving a puzzle feels good and has a massive visual pay-off even if close scrutiny makes it seem less of an achievement.
Monument Valley is not quite so successful in terms of its story and characterisation, which tries to create an implied, fairy tale-like mythology but comes across as a little contrived and arch. Monument Valley may have worked better as simply a series of levels, but at least the narrative stuff doesn’t really get in the way.
The game could be said to be a touch on the short side, but better that than outstay its welcome or seem to run out of ideas. It’s a short, sweet, self-contained treat packed with great sights and some very clever design, and breath of fresh air in an App Store that’s increasingly dominated by clones and cash-grabs.
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Monument Valley: Specs
- Requires iOS 6.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5s, iPad and iPod touch. This app is optimized for iPhone 5.