Tested: Playing through Monument Valley
On December 9th, 2010, Chair Entertainment and Epic Games released Infinity Blade, an iOS game more closely related to graphically intense console games than addictive, repetitive mobile titles like Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja. Gamers responded: during the first four days after its release, Infinity Blade sold over 270,000 copies and made $1.4 million. Additionally, it spawned two iOS sequels (Infinity Blade II and Infinity Blade III), an arcade game and two novellas written by New York Times best selling author Brandon Sanderson. For a while, it seemed like the game’s popularity would help shift the focus of the entire iOS gaming landscape from quick-flick action and flashing lights to graphics and narrative. And then everyone sort of forgot about it, and the industry went back to producing mass-market titles like Temple Run and Candy Crush.
Since 2010, several iOS games have tried to match Infinity Blade’s incredible combination of artistry and narrative, our favorites being The Room and Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP. Both games have received critical acclaim and attracted cult followings. On April 3rd, 2014, a new challenger stepped into the arena: Monument Valley ($3.99), a puzzle game made by indie developers ustwogames.
In Monument Valley, players rotate columns and shift ledges to guide a princess, Ida, through ten M.C. Escher-inspired levels. It seems straightforward, and yet once you start playing, things become more difficult — as we mentioned, the levels are Escher-inspired, meaning that solving the puzzles often requires a shift in perspective. To add to the confusion, there’s no tutorial, hint, or walkthrough: gamers are left to discover the world’s mechanics for themselves. Which isn’t to say that it’s hard — it’s not — but it certainly presents a decent mental challenge.
“Like listening to an album or walking through a museum for the first time, Monument Valley is about discovery, perception and meaningful beauty,” said the developers on their blog, and they hit the nail on the head: playing Monument Valley is like experiencing a piece of entertaining art. Acoustically, lilting music plays as a constant backdrop to action-sensitive sounds; visually, each one of the ten levels floats against a simple, mood-setting wallpaper. The beauty of the game lies not only in the minimalist aesthetic, but also in the puzzles themselves: shifts in perspective result required to solve the puzzles results not from in-game trickery, but well-designed optical illusions.
Monument Valley is a short game — about an hour from start to finish — but a beautiful game, and one that you’ll remember for far longer than Flappy Bird or Tiny Wings. It’s the newest game on the market for meaningful iOS entertainment.