Monument Valley | Critical Play: Puzzles


Monument Valley is a puzzle game developed by Ustwo Games, where the premise of the game is to navigate through the puzzle structure as the main character Princess Ida. Its intended audiences are people who enjoy puzzle games or short games that don’t require much time. With its intuitive design, this game is also ideal for non-gamers seeking relaxing gaming experience. While I played Monument Valley on iOS, it’s also available on Android and Windows.


At its core, Monument Valley is a puzzle game where the entire game is itself a puzzle. The developers cleverly utilizes puzzle as a way to cultivate emergent narrative and empower users to feel a sense of competency with its level design. The core mechanics involve interacting with the structures and characters—either by shifting, tapping, or rotating—inviting players to immerse themselves fully in the game’s space.

The unique puzzle combinations enhance the gaming experience. Unlike traditional logic puzzles with linear patterns, players must leverage the visual perception created by the building’s geometry to move Ida around. Each level’s entire space is part of the puzzle, requiring players to observe and interact with the objects actively, similar to object puzzles. This approach is a unique use of architecture; rather than being inside a building solving clues like an escape room, the entire structure is part of the clue, encouraging attention to every detail of the art. For instance, in the level shown below, players need to rotate the stairs to create a path for both Ida and the totem structure in order to unlock the door for next level. Sometimes they incorporate timing puzzles, in which players need to identify a perfect timing to move to the desired location without being stopped by the crow. The variety and novelty of the puzzles contributes to fun of discovery, as players are introduced to new ways of interacting with the world that they’ve not seen before.

Each level in Monument Valley is meticulously designed to teach new puzzle-solving skills and advance the narrative. To recognize it’s possible to rotate the stairs and to leverage the design of the building, the designers incorporate loops to train players to practice such skill. Each level is a loop and begins as follows: (1) players hold an initial mental model of how to solve the puzzle (2) they make a decision to solve the level using their existing strategy (3) the characters (i.e. Ida, crow) and building moves as defined by the game (4) players receive feedback that their existing knowledge isn’t sufficient enough to solve the puzzle (5) realize there’s a new way to move the character or structure (6) update their mental model to include a new way to solve the puzzle. By repetitively learning and practicing new skills, players eventually reach a level of mastery and feel a sense of competence through unlocking each level. It’s interesting to note that each level has a title that correlates to the skills the players learn (example shown below). At each level, players also unlock some new narrative. For instance, in some level, Ida encounters another person that converse briefly with her and ask her questions. In another level, Ida travels with the totem structure across the sea. The ambiguity of these scenes invite players to actively construct their own narrative while solving the puzzles. When I was playing the game, I immediately categorize the crows as enemies as they block Ida’s way. But perhaps the other narrative could be Ida is invading their civilization, and the crows are protecting their home. Both the emergent narrative and competence aspect in self-determination theory provide players internal and external motivation to continue through the game, improving their gaming experience. To ensure the puzzle matches players’ skills and maintain an adequately challenging gaming experience, the complexity of puzzles also increase as players progress.

Game introduces new character and new movement, matching the title of the chapter with the new skills
The 3 dots on the architecture indicates that it’s movable
Ida traveling with the Totem structure
Ida conversing with the mysterious person













While the beautiful art, calming music, and novel puzzles create an immersive gaming experience, Monument Valley lacks a strong cohesive arc that convey a compelling narrative. When I was playing the game, it sometimes felt like I was solving bite-sized puzzles that are completely unrelated to each other. Even though the skills transfer from levels, it didn’t seem like I was unlocking enough narrative. Without a strong hook of narrative that captivates the players at the beginning, the game risks losing players’ engagement early on, leading to low motivation to complete the game. By cultivating a stronger narrative, Monument Valley could introduce another layer of psychological need of collecting information, creating an even more immersive gaming experience that players are emotionally invested in completing.

Overall, this is still a great game to play on a daily basis! I really love its unique implementation of geometry shape that encourages players to think outside of the box!

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