I was hoping that I would have a Child of Light review ready for you this week, but I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to block out time to play Ubisoft’s beautiful but grindy JRPG. So instead I’m going to review a similarly beautiful game that I was able to absolutely fly through that I probably enjoyed even more than my Child of Light experience so far.
Welcome, to Monument Valley.
Monument Valley is a peaceful little puzzle game that plays like what you would expect if Journey and Fez got together and had a love child. In it you play as Ida, a white robed princess with a strange pointy hat who has to navigate an even stranger landscape of Escher-esque buildings. The reasons for Ida’s journey are kept deliberately vague, which adds much to the mysterious tone of the game.
Each level introduces a new, odd piece of architecture that Ida has to navigate in order to get to the next level. Structures can be turned with a swipe of the finger, while certain points can be lowered or raised with a similar tap. Some puzzles also rely on the perspective tricks that Fez employed so well, but the scope of the puzzles aren’t nearly as oppressive and there isn’t any platforming bits to mess you up.
The game itself is actually very accessible, and while some of the puzzles did have me scratching my head for a while, there was never a point where I was frustrated to the point of throwing my iPad across the room. Player experimentation is definitely invited as you can never “break” a level or fuck up to the point where you have to start over. The controls as easy to understand, but do require enough finesse to make you feel really clever when you do figure something out.
However, the real star here is the gorgeous art design. Monument Valley is another great example of Arabic design in games, with its towering pagodas and twisting geometric shapes. But it’s probably also just a reflection of current digital art tropes as the art also reminded me of something made for a Polygon editorial piece. The soundtrack was unintrusive, using that twinkly New Age music all “zen” games seem to employ.
While the puzzles do start out as a simple matter of getting from point A to point B, later levels at these stupid crow jerks that get in your way and squawk at you very loudly. This adds timing to the mix and they also do a good job of hijacking the mellow vibes, which is a good incentive to avoid them. These later levels end up becoming just as much about confounding your enemies as it is about creating your own paths, while the last level suddenly cranks the difficulty up to 100.
The game is also fiercely aware of its serene beauty and regularly prompts the player to take photographs to record achievements and bask in the simple, yet profoundly evocative environments. While the whole game can be completed in well under an hour, I still heartily recommend it for anyone who likes puzzles, casual games, or just appreciates good design.