Game review: Monument Valley for Win Phone

I’ve had Monument Valley on my phone since November, and I probably should have done a review of it right after I finished it the first time. But I got busy with other stuff for a little while, and by the time I thought of it again, I felt it would be better to play the whole game again, and then write up a review. It’s not a very long game at all, not even with the additional purchase of Forgotten Shores, a collection of eight new puzzles. It is also not very expensive, so the time to cost ratio is pretty good. Upon finishing all the levels for the first time, I likened the game to one of those fun-sized candy bars. It’s good, really good, but it leaves you wanting more. This isn’t a bad thing, either, and I think it’s one of the nicer kinds of complaints one can have about any form of entertainment, wanting more of the same.

Monument Valley follows a princess, Ida, through a strange world with beautiful puzzles that look harder to solve than they actually are once you’ve got a good grasp of the game’s mechanics. I might compare them to Escher’s Relativity, except they’re not quite that complex even if they are just as visually appealing. It helps that the game uses a colorful palette to render these monument castles and their surroundings. The designs are simple, but every bit as pretty as games with much fancier graphics. The music is very soft and relaxing, which fits with the relaxed pace of the levels.

As I said, none of the puzzles are hard to solve, although they do get progressively more elaborate with higher levels. You start out only needing to rotate a walkway to help Ida move from one checkpoint to the next, but soon the game expands so that you’re rotating the entire level to make walkways rise and fall to meet each other in ways that are both clever and charming. This is not a game you play to challenge your speed or smarts. It’s instead a nice casual stroll that’s perfect for passing a few minutes on a train or in the bathroom.

There’s a good story told in it as well, one that gives out clues as to what’s going on with only a few short bits of dialogue. It’s a minimalist approach to storytelling, and I think it’s a perfect pairing of a fairy tale with a pretty puzzle game.

It’s not entirely perfect, though. I can’t be sure if the problems I had were due to the small size of my phone screen, but at times, trying to move Ida to the right point on the thin walkways required breaking out a stylus. Other times, trying to rotate or slide certain objects proved finicky and I had trouble whether I used the stylus or my finger. I got past these points with a combination of the two inputs, and as nothing is life threatening in the game, it wasn’t a major problem, just a minor frustration.

The game also had a strange tendency to crash and close down after completing certain levels. The crashes dropped me back to the home screen, but once I restarted the game, I could progress to the next level without needing to play the one that crashed over again. It’s also not a deal breaker, but I thought it should be mentioned.

The bugs and finicky controls aren’t so bad that I can’t give Monument Valley a nice 4 star rating. If you like puzzle games, this is the sort of thing you can pick up and play in small doses, or binge it through in one sitting. It’s also fun enough that you can come back to it later and still enjoy the level designs even if you already know the tricks to reaching each exit. Definitely worth the price of admission, and if a sequel ever comes out for it, I’ll look forward to playing it as well.