Monument Valley is a puzzle game for the iPad that is about changing perspectives. And, to my surprise, that’s exactly what happened to me as I progressed through the levels. There’s no doubt this is a polarizing game. Some people will instantly love it, and some will be very disappointed. I started out in the latter group, and it wasn’t until near the very end that I found myself greatly enjoying the experience.
One thing’s assured, though, and that is that from the very beginning you know it’s going to be visually captivating, especially on the iPad’s gorgeous display. The worlds are crisp, colorful, and full of fascinating structures similar to those found in the works of M.C. Escher. By rotating these structures, whether in whole or in part, you manipulate how different areas of the structure appear to connect, thereby opening up new pathways for your character to cross. It’s all wonderfully animated, and this is especially true in the stages where more and more of the structure unfurls as you explore.
Though the levels are works of art, most of the puzzles contained within them are not, and this is where the division among players will occur. The first five or so levels are so trivial in difficulty that they border on merely being extended tutorials. You simply tap to move your character along an obvious path so that it can land on switches that open up more obvious paths. Though you might have to rotate a structure along the way, it won’t require any brainpower. Those expecting any kind of challenge will be bored and, like me, perhaps ready to quit the game.
However, Monument Valley drops hints along the way that there could be some interesting gameplay to go along with the interesting artwork. One level introduces the concepts of ramps and how they basically change gravity. By taking a ramp, your character can now walk up and down the side of a structure without falling off. Another level introduces a creature resembling a totem pole that helps you get to higher planes that you otherwise couldn’t reach. Not only do you have to navigate your character down a path, you also have to work out how to not block the path of the totem and vice versa. While these new twists are different and fresh, the puzzles remain simplistic.
And then comes Level VIII.
This is what I wanted. This is what I expected. This potential is what kept me from quitting the game.
Level VIII features a complicated box which, depending on how you open or rotate it, reveals mini-puzzles connected in some way to each other and to some greater goal. It’s creative, inventive, and intriguing. It’s not necessarily difficult, but this is the first time that the quality of the puzzle matches the quality of the visuals.
In the next level, the graphics are somehow stepped up even further, and the game uses this to great effect. As you progress through the different areas in Level IX, solving a puzzle now rewards you with a drastically different atmosphere and a piece of a developing mystery. Not only are the puzzles more interesting by this point, they’ve also been directly woven into the overall feel of the game.
In Level X, the complexity has increased to the point where I truly have to think. I have to stop and analyze the structure and plan ahead in order to solve the puzzle. It’s challenging, fun, and exactly what I was hoping for. Finishing it is a delight, and even the conclusion of the minimal storyline is somewhat interesting and appealing.
My overall opinion of the game has now changed. I have enjoyed the journey and appreciated the experience. Further cementing my change of view is the extra puzzle included with the purchase of the game nowadays. It’s the culmination of everything you’ve seen so far in the campaign plus a few additional twists and turns. The art is superb, and the creativity is excellent. It’s like the pretty bow on a nice package.
I’d compare playing Monument Valley to watching a gorgeous yet slow, artsy movie. Some people love that kind of movie. They like the visuals, enjoy the relaxing pace, and get caught up in the experience. Others are just bored to tears and are praying for something to happen in the plot that makes them think or question or otherwise interact with the movie that so far has not held their attention. For those in the first group, they’ll love Monument Valley all the way through. For those in the second camp, I’m not sure. To me, the game ends with a powerful finish, one strong enough to make me think that the entire experience was worth it. However, I could easily understand someone who was so disappointed by the first three quarters of the game that they wrote it off as not worthwhile.
So, is Monument Valley for everyone? Certainly not. Is it for you? I can’t answer that because…
Dare I say it?
It’s all a matter of perspective.