I played “Monument Valley,” an indie puzzle game developed and published by Ustwo Games using the Unity game engine for anyone over the age of eight. In “Monument Valley,” the player must lead the princess Ida through mazes of optical illusions and impossible objects by manipulating the world around her. The primary mechanism of the game is perspective, through which the user leads princess Ida by connecting architecture in unique ways by shifting and manipulating the world around Ida. The game’s graphics are inspired by Japanese prints, minimalist sculpture, and indie games like Windosill, Fez, and Sword & Sworcery. The game feels soft, minimal, and gentle, with plain soft backgrounds that seem to disappear the boundary between game and space, with no sense of urgency to complete a puzzle, allowing the player to relish in the sounds and visuals of the game. Like any other puzzle game, “Monument Valley” requires no instruction or onboarding, as the player follows Ida’s prompts, and begins by being thrown into a maze which they must independently figure out how to escape, mazes that progressively get harder as the player gains mastery of the perspective switches needed to solve puzzles in the game. Each puzzle consists of a differently structured building, for which the player must get Ida from point A to point B. At each level, there are options for suggested movements, gestures, and directions.
“Monument Valley,” at its core, is not about the difficulty of the puzzles. It does not include metrics for time-to-solve-puzzle, nor does it inject leaderboards into the mix, nor does it give you the sense of urgency to complete Ida’s story, nor do we ever fully realize Ida’s story. “Monument Valley” is fun because of its softness, the way its visual elements breed empathy between player and Ida as the player feels equally lost and entranced in Ida’s world. Additionally, because Ida is lost, we do not know what there is to gain by solving each puzzle, reducing the achievement-based nature of the game, as compared to other games in the puzzle genre. The satisfaction of clicking puzzles into place and of guiding Ida is enough to give the user a deep sense of mastery and understanding.
I loved the game’s simple mechanics that were quite elegant in practice, the narrative-driven nature of the puzzles, the reduced sense of urgency. I played “Monument Valley” years ago and come back to the game when I’m stressed, escaping into Ida’s world when need be. If I were to change enything about the game, I would lean further into Ida’s narrative, crafting a deeper sense of wonder, injecting other characters into the mix.