avatarby Tab TimesApril 7, 20140 comments

So I'll just cut to the chase: this is a magical interactive experience that delivers in full on its promise of visual and aural storytelling beauty. It's not very long, but it's worth every second.

You are Ida, a white-frocked princess with a pointed cap and no memory, who awakens in a bizarre, Escher-like world of warped perspectives and impossibly twisted geometry. Neither she nor you know why she's there or what she's supposed to do, but a distant doorway offers a possible exit. It's out of reach, but an odd-looking crank reveals that the environment can be manipulated in unexpected ways, and with that, Ida and you are off on a breathtaking journey of discovery.

The first couple of levels in Monument Valley are short and simple but the complexity gently rises over the course of the game. Not the difficulty, however; Ida's rapidly changing orientation is a slippery thing, especially as the conclusion nears, but only once did I find myself stuck, and only for a minute or two. Marked segments of the monuments on which she walks can be turned, twisted, pulled, and slid, and Ida can very quickly move from a floor to a wall to a ceiling—although those terms don't actually have much meaning. In this world, "up" is a very flexible concept.

As strange as it is, Monument Valley is a fairly linear experience, although there are no doubt multiple ways to traverse at least some of the structures. It's also quite short: If you don't have it wrapped up within a couple of hours, you're dallying. But what it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in pure, dreamy beauty. Ida's travels take her across ten unique monuments, some far larger and more complex than they first appear, and are accompanied by airy, free-flowing music and ambient sounds, punctuated by musical notes that coincide with environmental interaction, creating a kind of interactive soundtrack.

And Ida isn't alone in her world. Many of the monuments are populated by "crow people," who bear a resemblance to the princess, only pitch black and "bothersome." They won't harm Ida, but they will block her way and caw loudly in her face if she gets too close.

There's also a ghost-like mystic who will turn up now and then, offering cryptic words about forgetfulness and forgiveness. It soon becomes apparent that Ida's journey is about more than simply moving from start to finish, and that, for me, is a big part of what made Monument Valley so special.

This is a unique and lovely puzzle game by any measure, but the narrative, as thin and open to interpretation as it is, elevates it to something far more emotionally enduring. It may be that I'm a sucker for a good presentation, but here it's so masterfully done that I feel no need to apologize for it.

I did occasionally have issues with the game not responding well to my touch. The ledges on which Ida walks are generally quite narrow, but even so, it felt overly picky at times about acknowledging my finger. You can pinch-to-zoom, but you need to zoom out again to actually play. At least the zoom works nicely with the built-in screenshot function—these landscapes are pretty enough that you may well want to take some.

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I asked to review Monument Valley because it looked weird, and weird is my thing. But it's so much more than that: brief and simple, yes, but beautiful and touching in far greater measure. Maybe it's overstating things to say that this is the kind of game that makes tablets relevant as game platforms, but I don't think so; and either way, it's one I'm very glad I had the opportunity to play.

  • Monument Valley
  • Developer: ustwo
  • Platform: iOS
  • Price: $3.99
  • In-app purchases? No