If you’ve got an hour and $2 to spare, you should play Monument Valley from Ustow.
It’s a puzzle game, but I didn’t find it particularly hard. The small scope of the game keeps you focused, so it’s easy to know where you should be looking for answers to the puzzles. This is a pleasing, low-stress experience with a focus on rewarding discovery, instead of difficulty. This isn’t a puzzle game where content can be created infinitely. It’s clear that each level was carefully hand-crafted, and you can get through all the content in a satisfying hour or two.
What most fascinated me as a designer was how well the game pulled you through its mechanics with barely a word of explanation. It’s really important to communicate to players which parts of the game can be interacted with, especially in a puzzle game, and especially on a touch screen. Monument Valley is a great example of clarity and simplicity in UI.
Monument Valley has a satisfying amount of story. Just enough to pique curiosity, but not enough to get in the way. It’s a good example of story more as a way to set the tone than to actually convey a plot. Story in games is one of my personal weaknesses, so I appreciated the lesson.
I also want to call attention to the awesome level-select screen that is superbly introduced. After beating the first level, you’re transitioned to a screen with a floating four-sided building in the middle. You’re staring at one of the sides with a gray roman numeral “X” symbol on it. Then the building starts to rotate, and you see a side with “IX”. Then “VIII,” and “VII.” It’s counting down in roman numerals. Then, as you think it’s going to rotate back to the “X” side, instead it’s a “VI.” This continues until it hits “I”, which starts to colorfully animate. Then it rotates back to “II”, which appears to activate.
This moment is awesome for a few reasons. Most importantly, it wordlessly emphasizes the primary mechanic of the game: impossible geometry. It also gives the player a sense of scope and location in the game – there are ten levels, you just completed level one, and now you’re on level two. Lastly, it teaches the player how to navigate the level selection screen by showing rotation in one direction, then in the other. This also subtly reinforces one of the major ways the player interacts with the game – rotating objects in 3D space.
It’s so great to see this level of care and subtle design applied to the level select screen. It’s such an easy screen to “level one” design and just stick in a grid of levels with padlock symbols on the locked ones. Granted, sometimes the typical level-select screen is the way to go. It’s typical for a reason – it’s cheap, and sometimes resources are better spent elsewhere. In the case of Monument Valley, taking the title screen to the next level really reinforces the goals and messaging of the game. This game is meant to be artistic, and it was made with care.
Overall, I love when a game know its scope so perfectly. This isn’t a puzzle game like Cut the Rope that can pump out forgettable content. (Don’t get me wrong, I like Cut the Rope.) They made ten levels, and they made them beautifully. They picked their mechanics, integrated them into the experience seamlessly, and didn’t stretch them too thin. The story serves the tone of the game instead of its own ends. Monument Valley just wants an hour or two and a few dollars in exchange for an artful experience, and it’s clear that the game was crafted with that goal in mind.