Critical Play: Puzzles — Monument Valley

I played Monument Valley for iOS, developed by Ustwo Games. The game has almost no onboarding, but upon launch places the player immediately into a simple puzzle that establishes the game’s most fundamental mechanic: manipulating architecture in impossible ways. Aside from a few brief hints at the gestures that are possible to perform and some vague direction offered by the chapter titles (ie. “In Which Ida Encounters The Bothersome Crow People” hints to the player that they’re going to need to avoid the crows), the game provides very little guidance, instead forcing the player to figure things out on their own, a dynamic further enforced by the game’s extremely minimal UI. Isolating the player in this way serves to effectively place them in the shoes of a lonely princess wandering a forgotten world, and it also makes the puzzles extremely satisfying to finally solve.

The puzzle mechanics also create an exciting atmosphere of discovery as perspective warps the environment in ways that the player likely has little initial intuition for and so has trouble predicting when they first pick up the game. The only thing the player can rely on is the gestures they know they can perform and the places (indicated by handles) where they can perform them, so by manipulating the environment through trial and error, the player gets to discover an entirely foreign physical ruleset for this new world. As their understanding of the world grows, their ability to intuit how the environment will behave and “see” the solution to a puzzle increases, building a satisfying feeling of mastery.

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