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Monument Valley Review

Today I got a chance to play the critically acclaimed, yet highly controversial, mobile game called Monument Valley and I wanted to share my thoughts with you about it.

Reception

Monument Valley received a lot of press when it was released on mobile. The game made its first debut in the Apple App Store on April 3rd of last year and it took a little over a month later before it was released into the Google Play Store. A lot of us within the Android community would love for games to be released for Android first but we barely see that happen. However, thanks to some of the advancements that Android has made, we could see that change in the not-so-distant future.

Being released for iOS wasn’t the reason that Monument Valley has been so controversial. As I mentioned, this happens a lot, so most of the seasoned Android veterans aren’t bothered by this anymore. However, it seems that the longevity of Monument Valley was the reason why the game was so heavily criticized. Besides the random ‘this game refuses to open on my device’ reviews in the Google Play Store, most of the negative reviews talk about the price and the length of the game. This isn’t to say that the majority of the reviews are bad though.

Monument Valley has been in the Google Play Store for a little over a year and in that time the game has seen between 500,000 and 1,000,000 downloads for Android alone. Of those downloads, over 75,000 people have reviewed the game and just a little over 5,000 people have given it a 1-star, 2-star or 3-star review. Only around 2,500 people have given it a 1 or a 2-star review. This leaves over 61,000 people who have rated it with a 4 or a 5-star review and this gives Monument Valley an average of 4.7 stars. So, while the game has had a lot of criticism about how much it costs and how ‘short’ the game is, you can see that this is the so-called ‘vocal minority’.

Gameplay

The way this game plays is one of the unique things that make it so compelling. At the heart of Monument Valley is a puzzle game with some M. C. Escher visuals. These first four screenshots are what happens right when you start the game. This is a short tutorial stage to get you to start thinking about how Monument Valley plays out. You control Princess Ida in this game with simple taps on the screen. As you see from the tutorial stage above, a lot of this games is straight and narrow paths that you go through.

As you get to the edge of this path here, the game tells you to tap and hold on the gear. Once you do that, you can rotate the connecting piece of the stage and doing so will open up different ways to explore the area. As you rotate this block, a part of the level detaches from one part and then connects to another. Once the new path has been created, then you can walk through it and get to the next section of the level. This whole style of gameplay is unique and is reminiscent of Echochrome, Fez, Sword & Sworcery and more. It really does force you to open your mind(and eyes) to grasp how these gameplay elements work and it really is satisfying.

Art Style

The art style is one of the other unique things that Monument Valley has going for it. The game isn’t breaking any grounds here when it comes to graphics. In fact, a lot of the game is simple geometrical shapes that are put together to form an object(Princess Ida, the Annoying Crows, etc). It’s the overall presentation that makes Monument Valley so great. From the pleasant music to the sound effects that are timed just right, it really shows that the developers behind the game paid a lot of attention to the details.

This is something else that will be subjective to everyone. There’s a segment of the community who feel that the simple, minimalistic art style of Monument Valley is lazy or uninspiring. Those people generally prefer the realistic style graphics that we see in consoles and PC games. There are a lot of games available for Android that provide you with that type of art style but this is not one of those games. I think it will be easy for you to decide if you like or prefer the art style that Monument Valley choose to go with. However, you might want to check out a video or two so you can grasp the uniqueness of the gameplay before you make your final decision.

Progression

I feel the developers did a great job of progressing you through the game. Just like with the tutorial and level two here, you learn a little more in each area and you are to use that knowledge in more complex ways as you progress throughout the game. Since this is a puzzle game, I don’t want to reveal too much but in this first level you need to advance past the moveable elbow piece, rotate the elbow piece, traverse back across the elbow piece to get to the second area. Once there, you can step on a button and that will raise up a pillar. Then all you have to do is rotate the elbow piece again and you can reach the end of the level.

When you get to level three you start to learn even more gameplay elements that are hidden inside Monument Valley. If you don’t want things spoiled and you would like to figure this stuff out on your own then you probably want to skip most of this review. When I got to level three and started looking at this board, I was stumped. I walked back and forth, climbed up and down the first set of stairs and just didn’t know what to do. I eventually started tapping on different areas of the level to try to see if Princess Ida would just magically find her way to that spot.

It wasn’t until I tapped on the side of one of these walkways(the walkways with the pegs on the side) that I saw something different happen. I would do a single tap and could hear a noise. At first I thought I was supposed to tap them in a certain order but then I figured out that you could tap and hold on these walkways and then slide them from one spot to the other. Just like with the gear that you tap and spin, this is another gameplay element that you should keep your eye out for. These are ‘gripping points’ so to speak where you can tap and hold and slide/move them around. Again, just a new gameplay element that is sprinkled in throughout the game.

Each of the levels shows Princess Ida putting some shape/item onto a unique tile at the end of the level. Each of these levels has its own unique shape/item that gets placed into the special tile. You can see Princess Ida pull this item out of her cone hat each time but it is a mystery as to why this is happening. The game doesn’t present the story in that kind of way. Instead, you are kept in the dark as you try to uncover the mystery about what is going on and what has happened. This seems to be a common theme with Monument Valley and it is an effective story telling method too.

Story

Speaking of story telling methods, during stage three you start get some of the first pieces of the story told to you. You come across this ghost and when you approach them, they start to speak. Just like the rest of the game though, it starts off very vague which leaves you guessing and wanting more. You learn that this ghost has waited a long time in the darkness and that you have wandered around a long way just to find the first appearance of this ghost.

In the next level you find what I assume is the same ghost although it could be a totally different one. The ghost tells us that these areas you are wandering around in used to be the ‘Valley of Men’, that something has happened and all that remains are monuments. This ghost then calls Princess Ida a thief and asks her why she has returned. So again, we learn a little more of the story behind Monument Valley but not really enough to know what is going on. Up until this point, it’s almost as if you, the Princess, has stolen various items from each of these areas and you are on a quest to return them from where you got them.

This is one of the ideas that I have come up with but I haven’t completed the game to know for sure. That would make the whole pulling items out of your cone hat and placing them back into the special tile make some sense but it could go beyond that. If the ghost is to be believed, you have stolen something and you could be the reason why they no longer call this the Valley of Men and why the only thing that is left is the monuments.

Conclusion

I could go on and talk about the other levels in the game but with it being a puzzle game, I think I have said enough. At least for me, I really don’t like it when anything about a game, TV show or movie gets spoiled. I take it to the extreme though, I don’t even like seeing trailers or previews of next week’s episode. Hopefully you have skipped through to this conclusion section if you want to free yourself of any spoilers. Monument Valley has a lot going for it and I completely understand why the developers chose to charge what they did for it. The game is satisfying at almost every level and each one of those ‘ahha’ moments that you come across will make you proud of yourself for figuring it out.

This isn’t to say that Monument Valley is free of all faults and this doesn’t mean that those who feel the game costs too much or isn’t long enough are wrong. We have to remember that there are millions of games in the Google Play Store that only cost $0.99 and even more games in there that are free(or freemium). This means that Monument Valley has a lot of competition out there. If someone truly is frugal enough then they can easily opt for one of those free or less expensive games in the Google Play Store. Opting for one of those other games can even give them more entertainment(in terms of hours playable) than Monument Valley and I think this is where the critics are coming from.

This type of quality and value is represented among all the aspects of our lives. Some people can spend $20 on dinner and be full for just one night while other people can take that 20 dollars and eat for a few days. Sure, the more expensive food can taste better but not everyone cares about that. For some of us, being good enough is all we need to be happy or at the very least, to be content. So try to think of Monument Valley that way. Yes, you can get more value for your money but if you want to splurge and treat yourself to a (subjectively) better gaming experience then you should definitely give Monument Valley a try.

I also wanted to mention that there’s some DLC to the game as well. At this time the game costs $3.99 and the expansion costs $1.99. The base game gives you 10 levels of expanding length and difficulty while the 2 dollar expansion will give you 8 additional levels which are said to be longer and more complex than the original 10. So to get the complete game and all 18 levels you will end up having to pay 6 dollars and you should get multiple hours of gameplay out of the whole thing. I’m half way through the base game and am loving the everything about it so far.

Have you had a chance to play some of Monument Valley yet? Did you get it when it was on sale for a dollar a few weeks back? What do you think of the game in its entirety? Was it worth your money or do you think it should have played out for longer? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.


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