Critical Play (Puzzles): Monument Valley

Monument Valley is an indie puzzle game developed and published by Ustwo Games, first released on mobile platforms such as iOS and Android in April 2014. The player leads princess Ida through 10 levels of mazes of optical illusions to reach the top of each architectural monument. The player can “solve” each puzzle by 1) manipulating Ida’s world around her so she can reach various platforms, and 2) tapping on the path to direct her movement. Though the whole game can be played in under two hours, the strength of the visual design (the art was designed so that each frame could be publicly shared) and thematically relevant music and auditory cues have attracted both hardcore puzzle lovers and casual gamers who want to immerse themselves in a aesthetically beautiful world.

Mechanics and Types of Fun

In each level, a new mechanic is introduced for the player to manipulate the world, such as swiveling or pushing down on special connective platforms indicated by glowing lights or marked indicators. Furthermore, the mechanics are tied with the design of space and the fun offered to the player. Each world is exquisitely designed in isometric perspective to challenge the player’s interpretation of the game space, as levers that cannot connect 3-D platforms would make sense in 2-D space. Likewise, in-between puzzles, there are narrative snippets with additional characters who help explain Ida’s quest; “how far have you wandered, silent princess”?

The types of fun include Sensation, Challenge, and Narrative. The puzzles are intrinsically tied with the design of the space (e.g. the auditory and visual ambience), and the narrative helps cohere all 10 levels into Ida’s overarching quest for forgiveness. At first, the rotating glowing shape that Ida returns is visually evocative and rewards the player for finishing the puzzle; but then as more narrative snippets are revealed, players learn that Ida is returning these shapes to attain forgiveness for stealing them in the first place. The slow reveal, from the simple onboarding to the increasingly complex puzzles, with each title indicating the story moment, helps immerse the player into the full experience. The weaving together of these types of fun through the space and characters so seamlessly is what allows for a memorable experience.

What Can Be Improved

Though each level and puzzle is carefully designed, and each screenshot is so aesthetically appealing, the limited number of levels could be speedily accomplished by puzzle veterans. Likewise, the minimalist story, while appealing to casual gamers, could be deepened with more motifs or symbols per level to attract those who want to replay this game. Nonetheless, this game’s central draw is the immersive appeal and its careful striking of a balance, and perhaps this was purposely designed so they could create Monument Valley 2 and other spin-offs!

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