Monument Valley

Year: 2014
Platform: Android, iOS
Genre: Puzzle
Review Date: 1/1/15
Rating: *** (Original game), ** (Forgotten Shores)

"Monument Valley" is a beautiful puzzle game inspired by M.C. Escher's impossible architecture and geometric illusions. In it, you play a princess named Ida who is exploring the ruins of a place referred to as Monument Valley (which bears no relation to the geographic region of the same name that's found in Utah and Arizona). The inhabitants are long gone, leaving behind only the monuments of their culture which are based on sacred geometry. The story is exceedingly vague, and told only through the names of the chapters and an occasional encounter with an ancient spirit. These passages add emotional weight to the game and force the player to arrive at their own conclusions. The gameplay itself is exceedingly simple. You guide Ida from point A to point B by manipulating the environment and taking advantage of pathways created by optical illusions. It's neither difficult or challenging, but the results are highly satisfying. The mechanism is similar to "Fez" (2012), but with a greater emphasis on impossible geometry rather than spatial trickery. The graphics are beautiful and the music is soft and soothing. The combination of music and Ida's subtle body language creates a serene setting with a touch of sadness. There are no time constraints and the only antagonists are a group of Crow People. They don't pose any threat to Ida, but they do impede her way.

While it's a delightful experience, I do have a few complaints about the game. First of all, it's very short and can be completed in an hour or two, and since it's a puzzle game, there's not much replay value. Secondly, the version I played had a couple of progress limiting bugs, where the environment wasn't rendered properly. It's very hard to go from point A to point B when the entire space is rendered as a solid color. The game also suffers from some graphical glitches and shearing/clipping problems, which seems inexcusable for a game with a fixed perspective. Still, for only $3.99, I felt like I got my money's worth and it's an experience that's definitely worth checking out.

With v2.0, you can purchase the "Forgotten Shores" adventure for an additional $1.99. It includes eight new chapters and builds upon the foundation of the original game. Unfortunately, it doesn't fix the bugs that existed in the original, and the same rendering problems are even more prevalent in the new levels. I also ran into several navigation issues where Ida refused to move, especially when the totem was involved. This becomes increasingly frustrating as the game wears on, and the final chapter is exceedingly buggy. Getting the individual totem pieces to move is extremely difficult, and unstacking them is an exercise is futility. The interface only responds correctly about 5% of the time, and the final step is utterly maddening. You just have to keep repeating the same move over and over and hope that the game eventually recognizes it. Other than that, the new levels are beautiful and feature a greater amount of complexity and sophistication, but the bugginess spoils the experience. You may be better off enjoying video walkthroughs on YouTube.

In keeping with my growing disappointment, iOS users have an additional adventure available called "Ida's Red Dream" which was part of an App Store AIDS charity event. The developers stated that there are no plans for making those levels available to Android users, which is unfortunate.