You Should Play: Monument Valley

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These days, keeping up with games can be a full-time job. So how do you separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the Temple Runs from the Temple Jumps? Allow us to help by regularly selecting a game You Should Play.

In a world where Flappy Bird is a frustrating success, the ethereal and surprisingly poignant Monument Valley is a breath of fresh, creative air. Designed by indie developer UsTwo, Monument Valley is described as an “illusory adventure of impossible architecture and forgiveness,” and it’s easy to see why. The game relies on puzzles of perception, stunning visuals, and a trance-like atmosphere to extract wonder and emotion from its players.

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Part puzzler, part adventure, all sorts of awesome. 

You guide Ida, the “silent princess,” as she wanders through an impossible, pastel-painted abandoned kingdom geometrically styled after the imaginations of the Dutch graphic artist M.C. Escher. At first, movement in the game is a simple tap on the part of the path you desire Ida to walk to. After a level or two, however, movement becomes increasingly complicated—though not overwhelmingly so—as your finger glides across the screen to rotate walkways, spin wheels, and manipulate perspective to create Escher-esque “impossible constructions.”

As Ida passes through the deserted halls and walkways of the land—which I can only assume is called Monument Valley—she encounters a handful of other living beings. A ghostly figure speaks to her in short, ambiguous sentences. The mysterious, aloof crow people stride purposefully along walkways and squawk at her as she approaches, acting as unmovable obstacles in her path. In later levels, a friendly, sentient totem helps her navigate difficult landscapes.

If that doesn’t sound captivating enough, here are three other features that make Monument Valley worthy of a spot on your home screen:

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Manipulate your pathway to navigate the impossible. 

A matter of perspective: Monument Valley is a perception puzzle that feels refreshing and unique. The bulk of the game involves environment manipulation; as you maneuver the environment using wheels, levers, and sliding blocks to create viable paths for Ida, you’re forced to also look at the stage as a whole to determine how different perspectives can alter in-game reality. In one level, rotating a path creates a Penrose tribar, which allows Ida to reach a higher plane as she strolls along the impossible route. 

The puzzle aspect of Monument Valley is not only decidedly different, it’s challenging in a way that consistently feels stimulating rather than exasperating. Although the game offers few hints and clues along the way, its experimental nature ensures you’ll spend your short time with the title doing—swiping, tapping, and moving Ida around—instead of growing frustrated and Googling game walkthroughs. Monument Valley is a short game, but its puzzles are inspired enough to woo even the most creative veteran puzzlers, while still being manageable for most casual players.

A work of art: Monument Valley is visually stunning. From the intricate spinning boxes that denote each level to the small finishing touches—such as brightly-colored spires and softly twinkling stars in the sky—every visual detail showcases why we should be clamoring for more games from independent developers. The game’s pastel-colored landscape, which is optimized for tablet play, offers up crisp edges and alluring details that add atmosphere without busying up the clean design. 

The game also features an evocative soundtrack that complements the storyline and adds weight to the fanciful landscape. Sound effects are not just limited to Ida’s pitter-pattering steps and the crow people’s squawking: Each moveable piece of the environment is also coupled with a musical scale, which helps you use your ear to lock pieces into the perfect position. It’s not a perfect science, of course, since most moveable pieces serve multiple purposes as Ida moves through the level, but it does serve to enhance the thoughtfulness of the game. 

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Though the game only has ten puzzles, each one is incredibly well-designed. 

The perfect package: I’ll admit it: I’m cheap. For $4, I usually like to see more game. Monument Valley is just 10 levels long, and will take most players no more than three hours to complete. But it’s not meant to be an endless runner or a physics game with approximately 5362 levels and three sequels (including a holiday-only sequel). It’s designed to be the perfect package, tied up and wrapped with a gorgeous bow. Monument Valley is a short, casual game that quickly sucks you into its quirky, whimsical setting and then spits you out, leaving you feeling wide-eyed and satisfied, if a little off-kilter.

It’s obvious, from the pretty, detailed landscape, the fantastic (yet oddly logical) game mechanics, and the haunting musical score, that developer has put its soul into this game. Everything about Monument Valley feels like it has been laid out, thought through, heavily developed, and then thought through again. The enigmatic storyline is both developed and vague, relying on emotions drawn from the player to truly express its strange gravitas. Each puzzle and movement is measured and calculated to move the player forward, yet at no time will you feel like you lack sufficient room to explore and puzzle-solve in your own, creative manner.

The game ends on the perfect note: Not with a blockbuster “Aha!” twist, but with just enough of an answer to reward your efforts without slamming you in the face with an explanation. Monument Valley is short, but not too short. Its length leaves you wanting—but not needing—more.

Developer: Ustwo
Platform: iOS (Universal) 
Price: $4

This story, "You Should Play: Monument Valley" was originally published by TechHive.

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