This review will be a bit on the short side, and the reason for that is simple: Monument Valley is a painfully short game. In fact, even calling it a “game” implies a certain amount of gameplay that simply isn’t present beyond its single gimmick. That’s not limited to just gameplay, either, because Monument Valley also lacks much of a plot, relying on the artsy “less is more” approach to exposition that allows the player to fill in the gaps. Succeeding at that approach, however, requires offering enough information to allow players to make an educated guess about the nature of the world. Instead, this game comes across as a fairy tale with 90% of the dialogue and interaction missing. While you can piece together something almost resembling a coherent story from the small pieces of information you occasionally receive, it’s simply not enough for the story to have any power behind it, and worse, many of the things you learn directly contradict each other.
It has its strengths, though
Monument Valley’s biggest draw is its M.C. Escher-inspired level design that ensures that levels twist and turn in impossible ways. This is difficult to put into words, but imagine that you’re on a lower level and unable to find a way to reach a bridge above you. Turning that bridge, however, causes it to reach down in a way that defies the “upness” and “downness” you previously perceived, and you’re then able to walk on that bridge and suddenly be on the upper level because of it. This aspect of the game is simply brilliant, and each level introduces new elements that allow you to move in impossible ways, creating a great sense of progression.
It also has crippling weaknesses, though
For one, main character Ida doesn’t talk. Her companion who joins her midway through the game, a living stack of blocks named “The Totem” (who actually manages to be the most interesting character in the game), also doesn’t talk. As it turns out, the only character who has any dialogue in the entire game is a ghost-type figure of indeterminate gender who speaks cryptically about the history of the place and refers to Ida as “silent princess” and “thieving princess.” By the time the end rolled around and some strange stuff started happening, I still wasn’t 100% sure who I was or who the aforementioned ghost figure was.
Making all of this worse is how several parts of the story don’t seem to fit together neatly; at one point it seems as though the kingdom’s downfall is directly related to Ida having stolen things (almost definitely the “sacred geometry” that the ghost figure babbles on about, since Ida appears to restore these at the end of each level), yet later on she’s told that “those who stole our sacred geometry have forgotten their true selves.” If that were the case, though, then why was the kingdom in trouble while Ida was clearly able to leave with said geometry? Even more, her and the ghost figure (who clearly hasn’t forgotten himself) look similar while the kingdom is otherwise populated by crow people, serving as further evidence that Ida faced no repercussions for her supposed theft. These little pieces of the story ultimately make no sense when assembled, and this lends a certain “vague for vagueness’ sake” air of pretentiousness to the whole thing.
Gameplay? What gameplay?
All you do in Monument Valley is move Ida (which, credit where it’s due, works surprisingly well with iOS and Android touch controls) and manipulate the objects in each level that can be moved and changed so that she can progress. Gameplay, then, comes down to moving a platform here or there and then moving Ida to hit a switch or go through a door using the new platform. Rinse and repeat. Later levels may become a bit more complex, but that same basic formula remains true for the entire game.
At one or two points you have to use the level to move a crow person out of your way or wait for them to walk onto a switch, but they impede Ida without harming her, so there’s never any sense of peril or consequence while playing. Even more troubling, there’s absolutely no challenge to the game; while later levels are mind-bending because of the impossible structures you have to navigate Ida through, you quickly acclimate and figure out how things work, and from there the game is as simple as walking from point A to point B.
It’s also about an hour long
You can easily finish this game’s 10 levels in an hour. While that wouldn’t normally be a problem for a mobile title, Monument Valley costs $3.99 USD, which means that it’s seriously overpriced when weighed against its length and absolute lack of replay value. If this were a 99-cent app, I would likely be ranting about what a great value this game is for the money, but four dollars is far too much for a game like this, full stop. I mean, for a dollar more you can pick up something like Tales of Illyria or its sequel, which are not only much better games, but ones that can easily last 20 times as long. I’m tempted to give Monument Valley a pass on this because it doesn’t nickel-and-dime you with microtransactions, but honestly, that should be the bare minimum for a paid app to begin with, and looking past an app’s flaws because of its lack of microtransactions is kind of like thanking someone for not beating you to death with a baseball bat.
Very colorful graphics
The game’s graphics, on the other hand, I have nothing but good things to say about. The art design is brilliant, the different levels all look distinct and colorful, and it’s immediately obvious which parts of the environment can be interacted with. Whoever did the art design for this game deserves a medal because of how universally pleasing it manages to be.
Pads! Pads everywhere!
I have much more mixed feelings about the music, though calling it “music” is as much of a stretch as calling Monument Valley a “game,” because in actuality it’s just a bunch of atmospheric pads playing nothing interesting in the background. Moving and touching objects often results in a synth stab or two, so the music does work as a kind of feedback system, but I actually had to reinstall the game when the time came to do this review because I couldn’t remember whether or not it actually had music. Needless to say, that’s not a good sign at all.
Here’s what you should do: