In a mobile gamescape cluttered with free-to-play fluff meant to while away weeks, months and even years rises Monument Valley, a premium perceptual puzzle game that offers just an hour of content — the most sublime hour my iPad has ever given me.
Luke Plunkett told us to play Monument Valley last week (I even co-opted his animated GIF), which struck me as a relatively un-Plunkett-ish thing for him to do. I've known Luke to enjoy a mobile game here and there, but to take a moment out of his busy schedule to urge us all to play?
He put Monument Valley on my radar, where it really should have been all along. Developer ustwo has been quietly handing out bits of digital brilliance for several years now, from the colorful Whale Trail to the challenging Blip Blup.
So the fact that Monument Valley, an MC Escher-inspired perceptual puzzle game with enchanting visuals and mind-bending gameplay, managed to avoid my notice for so long is an odd and unfortunate occurrence.
Luckily, it's also one quickly fixed. Upon Luke's urging I procured a copy, slipped out onto the back porch of my home as the sun was setting, and lost myself in the game for a most satisfying 60 minutes.
I guided the silent princess Ida through ancient abandoned cities, their twisted walkways turning at my touch to produce impossible paths. My job was to facilitate her journey, using my finger to manipulate either select bits of scenery or rotate entire stages. Broken roads, turned to the correct angle, became whole. The level design, from sprawling temples to intricate unfolding puzzle boxes, is uniformly brilliant, but not obnoxiously so.
Stark, melancholy music was as much a storyteller as the occasional snippet of exposition. There aren't many words in Monument Valley — they aren't needed. Ida's journey through the game's ten stages is felt, not read.
Luke called Monument Valley relaxing, which describes a puzzle game that leans more heavily on pure progression than ramping difficultly quite well, but it's more than that. It's actively soothing, lightly massaging the mind and senses. It's manipulative in the most gentle of ways.
There are no doubt those who will be put off by Monument Valley's brevity. Yes, it's only an hour long, but it's one of the very finest hours, and the value of such a thing is incalculable.
- Genre: Puzzle
- Developer: ustwo
- Platform: iOS (other platforms in the works)
- Price: $3.99