Critical Play: Puzzles – Monument Valley

The Game

Monument valley is a single player iOS and Android game developed by Ustwo. The puzzle game, especially initially, is pretty simple so the intended audience is likely everyone, even kids.

Formal Elements

The game is broken up into levels where each level is a small puzzle. The objective of each level is to complete the puzzle by moving your character to the endpoint. The only actions you can take as a player is to manipulate the walls and floors in the world and to walk around as your player. While you are trying to move your character to the end, the obstacles in the way are the world itself. The walls and floors fit together in strange ways using optical illusions. You must deduce how to manipulate the physical boundaries in order to complete each puzzle/level.

Types of Fun

I think the number 1 type of fun met by Monument Valley is sensation, specifically visual sensation. The game is so beautifully made with calming pastel color themes and an adorable main character avatar. Given that the puzzles also include optical illusions, the visuals of the game can be confusing and even frustrating at times to navigate.

That’s why the number 2 type of fun met is challenge. Completing the puzzles often requires trial and error and understanding the mechanics of how different platforms will move in the game is a skill that you grow the longer you play.

It seems like the creators were also trying to incorporate narrative into the game as well. Each level starts with a short sentence-long description of the “plot” that is unfolding with Ida. I personally did not find this storyline engaging and totally forgot about the big picture when I was solving the puzzles. I found the puzzles fun enough in and of themselves and the narrative as a distraction that actually was pulling me out of the game rather than in.

If I were to change Monument Valley, I would completely remove the narrative element. From a designer’s perspective, I see why it might seem like players won’t be invested in getting little Ida to the puzzles’ end if they don’t know why she needs to get there. But when I played the game from the perspective of a designer, I found that the calming nature of the aesthetics of the game along with the satisfaction I got when completing a puzzle kept me hooked for level after level. I was excited to get to the next level just to see what amazing layout and visual design was in store next and the narrative snip-its only detracted from that.

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