Critical Play: Puzzles: Monument Valley

I bought and played Monument Valley, a puzzle game developed by Ustwo Games, and it was published in April 2014. It is available on iOS and Android devices.

Formal Elements

Objectives and Enacting Narratives

In this game, the player plays as Ida the princess and journeys through 10 mazes, in each of which they need to find a way to the goal. Each maze consists of a few puzzles the player needs to solve to proceed. The objective is simple and intuitive, and the game environment creates immersive gameplay with various in-game elements. The art, being geometrically simplistic and colorfully appealing, suits well with the geometry-centric puzzle theme of the game. The music is relaxing, and the occasional instrumental sound effects bring liveliness to the experience. Last but not least, when the player enters some structures, there is an NPC character that gives the player a little hint on the story. All of these elements serve the role of helping the player submerge himself/herself into the game world.

Procedure and Game Mechanics

In each level/maze, the player is put into a space with structures formed with geometric shapes. The player must manipulate parts of the space to form a passage for the main character to proceed. In one level, a few walking crows block the path, and the player needs to find the correct timings to sneak or use some gimmicks to trap them. In another level, the player befriends a “golem,” which is essentially a vertical block they can stand on, and they need to find out how to bring both the character and the golem closer to the goal. The most important mechanic is the use of optical illusion as part of the solution to most of the puzzles. The game is presented in an isometric view, and the objects are supposedly 3D. However, in order to proceed through the levels, the objects in the space need to be rotated/moved to create passages that can never be formed if the objects are actually 3D. This mechanic is very counterintuitive and mind-trippy, and it drew me in immediately. The level of intricacy definitely enhanced my experience playing this game.



As a puzzle game, all the puzzles are excellently designed with quite a few twists and turns. They can take some time to solve, especially if the player is not familiar with the mechanics yet. After solving one puzzle, the “Oh that’s how it is!” moment can bring a lot of joy and fun to the player.


Although not a main focus of the game, the narrative style is very unique. The princess takes on a different journey in each level, and we can observe how the environment changes, how the pieces of shapes morph, and how different entities tell their own stories, silently. My favorite part of the game is the end of Level VI, where the golem sinks into the ocean as the princess leaves the maze. This scene evoked quite a lot of emotions in me and brought me a lot of fun.

What Can Be Improved

Overall my experience with this game has been positive. However, there are a couple of places that can be improved in my opinion. First, I wish the story could be more clear. I have no objection to exploring intricately designed mazes, but having a clear storyline can give me more motivation. Also, I think the game can give out some subtle clues in case the player is stuck on a level for too long. Such clues can be inconspicuous flashing of gimmick objects, or texts floating and indicating what can possibly be done. This can be an available option that can be disabled. as some players would rather not want hints, but having such option can reduce possible frustrations the player might have.

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