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Monument Valley couldn’t be much more different in tone and approach than developer ustwo’s first game, Whale Trail—a delightful, rainbow-filled float through the clouds as a marine mammal—but both excel at charming you with remarkable ease. In this case, it’s done with a quiet, contemplative trek through illusion-soaked puzzle stages, wherein spinning the perspective or tweaking a dial reveals new pathways to traverse.
To be fair, it’s not a completely new idea. Inspiration is no doubt pulled from the surreal artwork of M.C. Escher, but also from Echochrome, an ultra-minimal puzzler released on PlayStation platforms six years back. As in that game, the paths in Monument Valley change based on your current camera view—previously separate platforms may merge together with a tweak of your perspective, while barriers may become hidden and new stage elements may appear. Frustration is thankfully rare across the 10 multi-stage chapters, though some solutions do require a fair bit of tinkering to discern the right pattern of moves to guide your heroine to an exit.
What makes Monument Valley magical is its sensational presentation. It’s a compact experience—less than two hours in total, unless you dawdle (understandable, considering the sights)—but we kept taking screenshot after screenshot from start to finish, as each locale proved more magnificent than the last. The settings are cleanly drawn, punched up with a vivid color palette, and made divine with rich animations. Add in a haunting soundtrack and the adventure builds incredible atmosphere inside of a short span of time.
Occasional hints of story serve as a nice hook to pull you through to the dazzling later areas (and a nice conclusion), though we wish the puzzles required a little more contemplation as the game progressed—or at least that the adventure packed in a bit more terrain to wander through. There’s no question of worth, however: Monument Valley is surely one of the most beautiful games we’ve ever played.
The bottom line. Monument Valley’s dazzling aesthetics and deceptive terrain combine wonderfully to form a rich, memorable experience.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 6.0 or later
Gorgeous, intriguing environments to wander through and solve your way out of. Puzzles are interesting without being obtuse or unclear. Light story threads culminate beautifully.
Puzzles don’t become much more challenging as the game continues.