Monument Valley: easy != !fun

I got Monument Valley recently. For free, I should add. That might be key here.

When I say recently, I mean yesterday. The game is just as short as everyone says.

For those of you not familiar with it, Monument Valley is a puzzle game based around playing with isometric perspective trickery. So in that sense, it’s similar to A Part. However, the control is completely touch based, so that one taps where one wishes to walk. Often, levels can be rotated to view the world from a different perspective, and connect different paths. For that reason, it’s been compared to Fez. However, Monument Valley has a unique aesthetic quite unlike the pixel art indie games I’m used to, which lends itself very naturally to the small screen of a phone. It has beautiful sound too, and all comes together in a very coherent package. And more than any other game I can think of, this is essential.

Because when it comes down to it, Monument Valley is not fun to play. It’s usually very obvious how to complete the puzzles since there is such a limited choice of what to do. I get none of the natural satisfaction that I might experience from struggling at a puzzle for some time, only to finally solve it.

Neither does Monument Valley have a compelling story. There are no deep character interactions, only simple allegorical figures. Certainly I did not want to keep playing just to find out what happens.

But with all that said, I really enjoyed Monument Valley. I don’t usually play mobile games, but I finished this in the space of two days whenever I had a spare moment. I think it has something to do with the way one interacts with the world, like a gradual exploration and examination of a new toy. The game unfolds almost like a pop-up book, each little turn of a handle or slide of a lever revealing something quite unexpected. Monument Valley is like nothing I’ve played before: it’s not an interactive story, it’s not a puzzle game. It’s best described, as the developers do, as an experience. It’s like watching a film without an important plot, but still enjoying it for all the moments along the way.

I don’t think I’ll be making a game like this any time soon. But the take-away message is that an enjoyable experience can be crafted even in the guise of a puzzle game, even if the puzzles are easy – of course, the title of this post shouldn’t be read as booleans but in natural English. I’m certainly not saying that every easy game is fun.

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