Critical Play: Puzzles

This week I played Monument Valley, a narrative puzzle game available on both iOS and Android developed by the game studio “ustwo.” Various blogs for parents say that the game is appropriate for children of all ages since it does not contain anything graphic or violent. However, solving the puzzles does require a certain level of visual and reasoning skills, so it is probably most enjoyable for children ages ~8+.

Monument Valley is a single-player game, and the objective is to help the main character, Princess Ida, navigate through various mazes. As explained in the readings on puzzles, unlike many other games, puzzles are not always competitive, and in the case of the Monument Valley, rather than having losers and winners, you either solve the puzzle/level or you do not. The procedures and rules are quite simple. By tapping on different tiles, you can get Princess Ida to move. However, there are some restrictions – specifically, Princess Ida cannot fly, so you need to find a way for her to travel by foot across different platforms, usually through using latters and rotating/moving surfaces. 

The main types of fun in Monument Valley are narrative, fantasy, and challenge. Puzzles are inherently challenging – you need to try lots of different things before you find the solution. What makes Monument Valley special is its elements of narrative (the story of Princess Ida that you uncover more and more of as you play) and fantasy (the ability to defy gravity and rotate structures in ways that are not possible in real life).

Princess Ida defying gravity.

I actually first played Monument Valley back in 2014 when I was in middle school. They were giving the game away for free at Starbucks locations near my hometown, and I got a little card with a code to download it. I remember playing it for the very first time and being completely shocked. I had never seen a game with visuals and such clever, well-thought-out mechanics like this before. Now playing it again years later, I feel like I can really appreciate how beautiful the game is. It is just fun to look at. Even though Princess Ida moves relatively slowly, the way she walks and climbs stuff (plus the sounds!) is very satisfying, and I never feel like I want to skip through any parts. Each level is unique, so you never get bored. Plus, it is such an approachable game! No instructions are needed to figure out what you need to do, so I can totally see this game being enjoyable for people of all ages.

The game also allows you to zoom in and take pictures — I think these would be great screensavers!

If there is any small thing I would change, I would maybe make some of the icons in the game a bit more clear. It is difficult to tell what icon leads you to what. I also think it might be good to consider implementing a hint system. If you are really stuck, you usually need to go watch a walkthrough, but it would be nice to have some systems in place to avoid that. However, I think the point of the game is to really think outside of the box to figure out the solutions without any help.

The icons at the top are not very intuitive, although very pretty!

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