Casual Monday: Monument Valley

We know how it is. You worked hard for your 10:1 KDR, but sometimes, you just want to take five, relax, and enjoy a quick game on your phone. Unfortunately, finding good games is anything but quick – most mobile gems end up buried under a mountain of trash. But like we said, we know how it is, so every Monday we shine a spotlight on a great diversion to get you through the work week.

Monument Valley Screen 13Monument Valley is an architecture-based puzzle game developed by indie studio UStwo, and is one of the most elegant games you can play on IOS or Android. Monument Valley first became available on April 3, 2014 and sold over one million copies by July.

The mobile market is and always will be dominated by Angry Birds clones and generic Bejeweled knockoffs, so it’s always nice to see fresh games with innovative mechanics.

In Monument Valley you control the silent “thieving princess” Ida on a quest for forgiveness through ten distinct levels. The games starts out easy enough, only requiring a few turns of a lever to navigate the level and get to the switches placed throughout. The difficulty is soon amped up a bit by having to rotate the whole level or specific sections. The level manipulation gets a little tricky as you get closer to the end, as you’ll have to deal with crows that block your path. Levels become a convoluted mix of doorways leading to other areas, but the order in which you access them doesn’t matter.

Switches make the level design in Monument Valley truly special. Every time you step on one the level changes in some way, making it feel alive. Sometimes it might raise a certain section of the level, while others it will cause a staircase to extend from what was previously a ledge. This makes you re-evaluate the level to see the new optical illusion that will help you get to the end. During parts like these you can clearly see the inspiration the game draws from other indie titles like Windosill, Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery EP and, most notably, Fez.

Monument Valley Screen 2There is one level late in the game where the team shows off their truly masterful level design. It starts out as a plain box, but it quickly opens up into something entirely unexpected with the flip of a few switches. It’s one of the best levels I’ve seen in a game in a while.

Music in Monument Valley is just a soft melody that underscores what’s happening in the game. Sound effects play a very prominent role, however. From the soft patter of Ida’s footsteps to the cacophonous squawking of the crows as you get too close to them, everything makes a sound.

This is an exceedingly minimalist game. That much is apparent from the art style, music and lack of dialogue. The only character with dialog is a disembodied spirit you come across every now and again, who gives you a cryptic rundown of the world’s lore. The spirit also labels you as the thieving princess, offering the only real glimpse we get into Ida’s personality and history.

Monument Valley is a very short game at only 10 levels (easy ones at that), and doesn’t offer much if any replay value. The fact that it can be completed in a matter of 30 minutes to an hour makes it a little difficult to recommend at $4, but if you can stomach the price (as a million people have) it’s a fun, refreshing game for those tired of the run of the mill apps that dominate the market. If you’re looking for a game with gorgeous art direction and clever puzzles, Monument Valley is well worth checking out.