In my time playing video games, I've noticed that games tend to break down into two different types, broadly speaking. There are games that lean more on giving you interesting play mechanics and challenging you to master them in order to overcome some sort of challenge, and there are games that lean more on the side of giving you an experience. You get rare cases where the line is straddled fairly evenly, but for the most part, games are going to do one of those things very well and give less attention to the other. Both types have their fans, and many gamers love both, but when a game comes along that strongly favors one type and does it well, you often see confusion from the opposite camp. I say this because even though I expect it to get a lot of well-deserved praise, a lot of people aren't going to like Monument Valley [$3.99] very much. Like last month's Tengami [$4.99], it is intensely focused on delivering an experience, and it does so spectacularly well. Its specific game mechanics have been done already, and done better to boot. The mechanics guys and the experience guys are going to have knife fight over this one.

In Monument Valley, you play as the silent princess. You have to navigate through ten levels, with your main means of interaction being the ability to rotate the perspective or turn certain parts of the stage around. Though things appear to be three-dimensional, you cannot trust your eyes. If a piece is connecting to another piece, even if it seems like it should be impossible in 3D terms, the pieces are considered connected. If you've ever played Echochrome or Fez, you'll know what to expect here. The game consists entirely of these traversal puzzles, but as none of them are terribly challenging, they seem to serve more as something to do with your hands while you enjoy the sights, sounds, and story.

Photo 2014-04-03, 16 00 05There's quite a lot to enjoy in that regard. Monument Valley is almost impossibly gorgeous. No one stage looks like any other stage, and even within the stages themselves, the look and feeling of the paths you walk can change very quickly. Every screenshot looks like a little work of art, and seeing how pieces of the levels move is a treat all on its own. One of the later stages in the game works something like a music box, and the way it all unfolds and moves as you push things around is sublime. Not to be outdone, the sound design in this game is also outstanding. There's a bit of music here and there, largely short pieces in dramatic moments, but the game generally relies on excellent use of environmental sounds to keep your ears interested. This game is definitely worth putting on the headphones for.

The story itself is sort of subdued. You get little snippets here occasionally by text, and the title cards for each stage tell a lot, but much of it must be pieced together by carefully observing and thinking about the symbolism of things playing out in front of you. We're never really told exactly what's going on, and although the ending can kind of serve as closure, if you're like me, you'll probably be sitting there afterwards still trying to puzzle out exactly what the developer was trying to express. As soon as the credits finished, I wanted to start again from the beginning and try to pick up new information by playing through once more. It's that kind of game.

Facilitating this, like many games focusing on delivering an experience, Monument Valley is quite brief. I can't even begin to imagine anyone getting stuck on any of the game's puzzles, so you're probably looking at a runtime along the same lines as mine, which clocked in at about an hour and change. It doesn't seem like nearly enough time for the mechanics to reach their full potential, but for conveying a story, it's just about right. It doesn't need any longer to get across the feeling it seems to be trying to send out, so bloating it out for the sake of a longer running time probably would have only hurt it on the whole. Replay value is limited to your own desire to experience the story again, since there aren't any achievements or extra content to pursue.

To fans of experience-focused games, and you know who you are, you should assuredly pick up Monument Valley right this minute. It's a feast for your senses, is mysterious and vague enough to keep you thinking, and has a great, snappy pace to it without ever feeling rushed. On the other hand, to the people who dislike this type of game, and I'm very sure you also know who you are, this is not going to please you terribly much. The gameplay, while clever, likely isn't anything you haven't already seen, the game itself is very short, and there's little on the bone to chew on, mechanics-wise. As for me, I feel that my four dollar ticket to the strange and captivating destination of Monument Valley was more than worth it. If you decide to take the trip, too, don't forget to stop by the thread on our forums to read more impressions and leave your own.

TouchArcade Rating

StarStarStarStarStar
  • stevearm

    Looks and sounds stunning. Any clues as to how long this game is? I assume we're talking an hour or two at most?

    • Geertyy

      Exactly. 1.5 hours on average.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      Read the review.

      • CzechCongo

        I'd love to, but it is cut off halfway through the 4th paragraph in the TA app.

      • Rivalsan

        If this happens, rotate your iPad, let the article reorient itself, then rotate it back to your original orientation, and the rest of the article should appear for you just fine. I have the same problem every so often when viewing articles on my iPad in the TouchArcade app.

      • tekn0wledg

        Sounds like that bug needs to be fixed. Where can we post about iOS bugs?

      • drkrpr

        I think you Google.

  • JimmyTW

    Best 90 minutes I've had my my iPad to date, worth every penny, a true iPad classic

  • Frost

    Amazing review, Shaun Musgrave. Spot on.

    • loophole

      Yeah I thought the review was super interesting how he talked about the two different kinds of gamers. I probably fall in the category of experience type gamers. I completely absorb stories in games (I'm a movie lover) and I'm definitely going to buy this.

      • xx99

        I am a big fan of deep, strategic, elegant mechanic design (I love hobby board games).

        At the same time, iOS has delivered so many incredible experience games that I have fallen in love with — Year Walk, Sworcery, Device 6, and Etter Drei, to name a few (I'd love any other recommendations!).

      • xx99

        Oh, and I played trough the Monument Valley beta twice. It was fantastic and I've already completed 4 chapters of the public release.

      • Frost

        Drei looks awesome! Thanks for mentioning it, buying now :)

      • godzillafrag

        Waking Mars is a top 5 of mine. Older, but worth a look if you've never played.

    • mike

      If an Out There fan gives it props, i'm gonna get this. OT is my fav, and before that Hoplite

  • mzinn

    Was an Instabuy last night. Now to see if i can wait until the weekend so i can play un-interrupted. I hope this does not end up like Tengami which for me at least lost steam quickly. Maybe too much build up for Tengami?

    • xx99

      Tengami was beautiful, but "tedious" is unfortunately a great way to describe the actual gameplay.

      "Tedious" doesn't apply to MV for a second. It constantly feels fresh and interesting. I think most people will feel it's too short — but I think that's better than dragging on too long. The puzzles are clearer too, you'll never spend more than a few minutes on a segment of MV and some of the puzzles feel really rewarding and clever when you figure them out.

  • Adsinjapan

    I absolutely love this game and it was an instant buy for me!

    I pretty much agree with this review 100%, but I will say one thing however.
    Although beautiful and rich in atmosphere this game may be, I would have possibly shaved off half a star or a full star for the duration of the game itself.
    This is partly due to my greediness that I want these kinds of magical journeys to keep going, but also for the fact that with the size of the first four or five of the ten chapters, the levels were quite small, meaning that it felt like only HALF of its full potential.
    I can forgive this because. The developers are onto something and this game really IS a gem! I just hope that they can bring more content to the game in a steady flow of updates to add value to those who were unsatisfied with the duration.

    • Christian Valentin

      That seems kind of harsh. Length is not indicative of quality. Why should length influence score? It's a complete experience, a story delivered and told in full, without filler or padding. The length here is a byproduct of the game's focus and diversity, not a case of lacking content or being unfinished. In this case, I believe punishing a game because of its length would be unfair

    • xx99

      There was a really interesting article on Polygon about ustwo wanting to make sure anybody could complete MV in this world full of casual gamers, massive game backlogs, and endless games.

  • shdwstar2417

    Easily Game of the Week here.

    • xx99

      I'd agree, but it is going up against FTL.

      • Chungston

        FTL is def game of the week... Game of the year!

      • CzechCongo

        Since those two are so big GoTW will be something completely different.

  • Maglor

    Just beat the whole game. Really Really... Take to the trip to illusion world. So fascinating......

  • GaZ-OiD

    This is the perfect game to illustrate why a simply five star review is inadequate.
    Yes it's five stars all the way for the game but three stars at most for the content. I think it's time TA changed their review system to account for the usual graphics, sound, re playability ect ect. Just to give an overall score to games can be very misleading imo

    GaZ

    • benexclaimed

      Nope.

    • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

      We will never do the stupid average overall score with score matrix for things like graphics and fun factor, ever.

      • GaZ-OiD

        and that is your choice Eli :)

        A single overall score reflects the sum of a games parts but breaking the game down into its component parts gives a far better indication/opinion of a game and always will in my humble opinion

      • GaZ-OiD

        You could always ask your audience how they want the reviews rated?

        A: Overall score out of 5 stars?
        B: graphics, sound, gameplay, replay ability, longevity and overall score? (For example)

        GaZ

      • dancj

        Never ask the audience what they want. That way lies mediocrity.

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        ;)

      • http://toucharcade.com Eli Hodapp

        Alright-

        Graphics: 17 pounds of Nature's Balance Organic beef flavored dog food.
        Sound: 20 McDonalds chicken nuggets.
        Gameplay: 3 king sized Nestle Crunch chocolate bars.
        Replay Value: 1 Elaborate Multi-Layer Jello salad with Cool Whip.
        Fun Factor: 2 Coupons for 100 free Chuck E. Cheese tokens.

        Overall: 5 stars.

      • GaZ-OiD

        Amusing... I think, might need to think some more :)

      • GaZ-OiD

        If ANY element is lacking it should not get a five star review

        Graphics 5
        sound 4
        Gameplay 4
        Replay ability 3
        Longevity 3
        Overall 3.5

        That's how I see the game in its present form

        Far more descriptive than a simple 5 stars!!

        Your score and my score are BOTH subjective but mine gives a clearer picture

        GaZ

      • bilboad

        "Far more descriptive than a simple 5 stars!!"

        You know what's even more descriptive than breaking the score down into 5 numeric categories? An actual written review which explains what the game is actually like!

        I wonder, do you even actually need these scores to decide whether to buy the game, or is the issue more that you just want to see your opinion of the game validated by a numeric score?

      • GaZ-OiD

        I 100% agree the scores by themselves are meaningless without a full game description of how you get to those scores
        The scores simply compliment how the game fares in certain categories.
        Knowledge is power and I'm not alone in seeing the advantage of scoring individual aspects of any game

        GaZ

      • bilboad

        I guess I don't understand what extra knowledge you think you would get out of those numeric scores. Suppose it said "graphics: 4". What would that tell you? It's not as if there is some objective way of measuring the graphics on a scale of 1 to 5, it's just a way of trying to reduce the reviewer's general impression of the graphics down to a number. I don't see any point to it other than as a substitute for reading the review, since it certainly doesn't add any additional information beyond what's in the review.

        I think these kind of numeric breakdowns make sense for things which can be objectively measured. For instance a review of a car should give stats like mpg, weight, acceleration, internal volume, etc. But they're a lot less valuable when they're completely subjective. Especially for creative things like games, I think it's much more valuable to read the reviewer's impressions than to try to reduce those impressions to numbers.

      • GaZ-OiD

        Good games with flaws still get five star ratings because overall "it's a great game" (I'm not referring to MV now) but so many reviews I have read here of other games.

        Breaking scores down allow you to accurately reflect any part of the game that is lacking.
        In this case using MV as an example, longevity and replay ability do not constitute a five star game to me simple as that and that can be reflected in its own score!!

        GaZ

      • bilboad

        But the review already clearly describes the facts that the game is relatively short, probably won't have really high replay value for most people, and isn't super hard. How would expressing those facts via a numeric score give you any additional information, especially when you know there isn't any precise way of measuring them, so the numbers would be somewhat arbitrary anyway?

        Besides, I don't think those things are necessarily flaws anyway. I much prefer the way this review was written, where he tells people for instance that the game is relatively short. Some people might see that as a flaw, and others won't. I don't see why considering that to be a flaw and lowering the score would help anything, since it would only be more accurate for the people who think it's really important for games to be long. It's better to just read the review and decide for yourself if you think that's a flaw.

      • GaZ-OiD

        So a game that is relatively short, has little replay value and is fairly easy is worth five perfect stars? Not in my book. As I said everything gets lumped into a final single score and when that is just a single score it can be very misleading. Some will simply look at five stars and not read the review. With a score breakdown you can then read the review to see where any potential problems lie

        Seems like we will have to agree to disagree but that's fine with me :)

        GaZ

      • bilboad

        "Some will simply look at five stars and not read the review."

        It sounds like we agree on one thing, which is that the main justification for your suggestion is to support people making decisions based on the score alone without reading the reviews. :)

        I guess where we disagree is on whether that's a worthwhile thing for TA to be concerned about, and also whether giving a more detailed numeric score breakdown is really all that informative anyway. The main reason I like TA is because they have a bunch of good writers on staff who write well written and smart reviews, so I think they'd be selling themselves short by catering to people who don't want to read the reviews. And I don't think a 5 category numeric breakdown is very useful anyway for deciding whether I'll like something as subjective as a game.

      • Illuminerdy

        If words like "content" and "graphical quality" are part of your criteria when evaluating a video game, please stop playing games right now and never talk about them again.

      • GaZ-OiD

        Having played and been a dedicated gamer for thirty two years, I don't think I will be giving up anytime soon.
        Games are not about Graphics alone and never have been for me but there are game reviews and their are game reviews that delve into every part of the game they are the reviews I prefer to read

        GaZ

      • falco

        For me here on toucharcade the 5 stars just show me how much they loved the game :)

      • Torque2k

        This. You've summed it up perfectly.

        /soapbox mode on

        We, as readers, can take the score against the reviewer to get a bit more accuracy, if needed; it's the personal touch. Shawn seems to review games I gravitate towards, so I believe we're like-minded. If he says a game is 5 Stars, 9 out of 10 times I'm likely to agree, so I look for HIS reviews over others to quickly cut through reviews of games I could go without.

        That said, yes, I've purchased a few games I normally would've looked right over based on his reviews. He never downplays faults; he talks about them in such a way that I get to decide how important they are to my play style. If he still gives a game 5 Stars, that says a ton about the playability of the game in my book, and I go in fully informed.

        To each their own, obviously, but please don't change the system if it works. It's a free-ish world, so if someone doesn't agree with it, move along happily, find a review site which fits one's view of the gaming world. Or better yet, make your own. I'm certain there's not just one person thinking about a system to better rate games. That's how we get the "better mousetrap" in life!

        /soapbox mode off

      • Roger Bobdog

        My problem with your suggested system is that, for example, games like Tetris, Minecraft, and Super Hexagon could never get 5/5 just because of their graphics. That seems counter-intuitive to me. I'd hate to have a reviewer sitting there thinking that a game feels like a 5/5 but they can't give it that score because the music isn't amazing or something. Games are like cakes - you shouldn't try to set a value on them based on the individual ingredients, but rather, how the product of those ingredients tastes.

      • GaZ-OiD

        Five stars means perfection, at every level or should be!

        If games get 5/5 for gameplay then that tells you everything you need to know about how the game plays

        GaZ

      • bilboad

        If you start your own game review site, you can make 5 stars mean "perfection", whatever that means. (See Roger's post above yours for why defining "perfection" isn't nearly as clear cut as you seem to think.) Here on TA 5 stars seems to mean approximately that the reviewer loved the game and didn't really see anything that needed to be improved. For me personally it just tells me it's probably worth reading the review.

        I absolutely disagree that rating a game 5/5 on gameplay would tell someone all they need to know about how the game plays. Unless someone is totally open minded with no preferences for one kind of game over another, then how could that possibly be true? For instance I don't usually enjoy games with a lot of gore or explicit violence in them, so there are plenty of gory games which would probably get a high gameplay score but which I wouldn't enjoy. Other people might not enjoy games which require the player to have really fast reflexes, or to remember a lot of things, or which have a lot of randomness, or which have difficult puzzles to solve, yet I don't think any of those things should necessarily count as flaws in the game. So I don't think a gameplay score could ever substitute for reading a review. It would just provide more fodder for score nitpickers to argue over in the comments.

      • GaZ-OiD

        The proper job of a reviewer is to INFORM about all aspects of a game, yes their own take on the game is valued and welcome and should not be overlooked but because any reviewer loves a game means they can easier fob off any negatives. A review should be objective based on unbiased likes or dislikes of a game. As I said before, I will respectfully agree to disagree with all that does not feel a complete breakdown on a game and its component parts is far better than an overall score

        GaZ

      • GaZ-OiD

        TA obviously has a lot going for it because I'm here, reading all the reviews and active in conversations as you can see but I will hop to other sites as well to get a better overall opinion based on different reviewers and different ways scores are assessed. I find sites with a proper breakdown more helpful but that is my preference :)

        GaZ

      • HelperMonkey

        Maybe instead of viewing stars as representing overall game "quality," they should be seen as representing overall level of recommendation. Ta-da!

      • GaZ-OiD

        But recommendation is very subjective from one reviewer to the next

        Reviews should be all about the game! Facts over personal taste. That's how reviews used to be and were better for that

      • Roger Bobdog

        What would you say is factually the best game ever made? If games can be considered (and should be considered) on a factual level, it should be trivial to get everyone to agree on which is the best. Facts can't be (reasonably) argued, after all.

      • dancj

        Facts can b&q reasonably argued. They can't be reasonably disputed.

        /pedant.

      • GaZ-OiD

        No idea factually what the best game ever made is and it would not be a simple matter for everyone to agree because if a FPS is your thing then this might seem like a complete waste of time.

        GaZ

      • dancj

        If five stars is perfection then there's never been a five star game.

      • GaZ-OiD

        I agree perfection was the WRONG word, a five star game or a 10/10 game should have no flaws. ALL elements should be top notch with no criticisms and reserved for only the very best games. Top marks in many reviews on many sites are given out far to easily

        GaZ

      • Christian Valentin

        Personally I don't like scores at all. Because by designating a rating, all that a game is - all its promise and potential, its emotional resonance, all the elements that generate the experience - is reduced to just another number. The content of a review can easily become moot because people may only focus on the score

        But I'll take a simple 5 star rating over something like segregated rankings for individual aspects. That's just ridiculous. Replay value? Graphics? Gameplay? All so objective and beholden on the individual player's opinion. And what's more, a game is an experience that comes to life when all those elements come together in one unified framework. Even if one element is lacking, the rest can still make a game memorable and enjoyable. To break a game apart into those elements and rank them out of context, just does a disservice to the game.

    • bilboad

      I think this is a perfect example of the advantages of actually reading the review instead of expecting to be able to make a purchase decision based on the score alone. I don't think breaking the score down into several categories is going to really change that, since it still won't give enough information for people to really know if a game is for them or not. I think this review was excellent, and I especially like the way Shaun identified a certain aspect of the game which is likely to appeal to some gamers and not others.

    • MetaGonzo

      My favourite car mag (Evo) nails this IMHO. When reviewing a car in their Driven section, they score it up to 5 stars but then summarise with a plus sentence and a minus sentence, each with a few words apiece.

      eg:

      ***
      +Build quality, pace
      -Lack of driver interaction

      (Yes I have chosen any modern performance Audi as my example ;)

      Of course you can read the article but I see no harm in a glance-able summary for those that fancy a quick scan before they come back to read the main event.

      So for this game, perhaps:

      *****
      +Innovative gameplay, gorgeous
      -Over a bit too soon

  • Honki

    Regarding the length of the game: the developer has added quite some content to their previous game Whale Trail, so we've got that going for us :)

  • lazrhog

    A real shame to hear people enjoy a game so much that they criticise it for leaving them wanting more .... Isn't that the goal of every game designer ?

    Worth every penny for the sheer quality and clever attention to detail ! 5⭐️ all the way. Love it

  • benexclaimed

    The game looks great and I'm going to grab this despite really not liking Whale Trail. That game looked great as well and was completely functional but it fell into that group of endless runners that were so easy that I'd play for like five minutes and die on purpose once I got tired of waiting for it to become interesting.

  • bigjack66

    Agree totally! I've already said you've got to pay for quality. I'm a lover of shooters and racers and always will be so for a puzzle game to catch my attention it has to be good like Tengami and The Room. I put this in their class, not overly long but a high quality experience which is worth the price and the 5 stars.

  • chimSIMA

    I'm trying not to go through it too fast, so I can save as much fun as possible and make it last :). Getting on it here and there while studying, and stopping at level to level. I really really really hope they expand on this universe! Also leave a 5 star review in the App Store so it gets more traction and more people looking at it so we can be sure to get more CONTENT!

    • xx99

      No matter how long you take to complete chapter X, it's going to feel too short. Playing through it once more to get more clues on the story is nice. ustwo has stated part of the reason for the game's brevity is that they actually wanted anybody who plays it to be able to complete it.

  • D4rgolf

    While I can see where you are coming from - comparing this game to 'Tengami' - I'd have to say here, that I enjoyed 'Monument Valley' more by quite a few orders of magnitude.

    Where 'Tengami' felt too stiff and slow most of the time (although the presentation, graphics- and sound-wise was stellar) to be considered even a good game, 'Monument Valley' succeeds to balance gameplay and experience perfectly.

    Great review for a great game!

  • BalckJoe Joes

    "The best iPhone 2048 game ever! You cannot lose!"

    https://itunes.apple.com/hu/app/2048-ultimate/id841897938?mt=8

  • Guitario666

    Amazing game. Beat it in about an hour, i really hope the devs add level packs please.

  • dancj

    Hmm.

    I didn't much like Paper Titans. I thought The Room was good, but got a bit same and began to drag towards the end (which is impressive for a two hour game) and I'm still trying to work out what's so good about Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery.

    I'm guessing that means I'm the wrong type of player for this game. Which is a shame as I REALLY Like the look of it.

    • orangecan

      I agree completely but I still find myself very tempted by this one....

    • Jake7905

      Paper Titans isn't in the same league as the Room or Monument Valley.

      • dancj

        But it is very very pretty.

  • Orlando Vito Júnior

    In a world where most of the games offer a long experience, it is fair to expect the same for all the new ones. It is not like people here are using exceptions to jump into conclusion; they are using the average facts. I am with the people who expect for more. I would not go far taking one star off of the review since I saw how hard it was to create what we have, tough. I also saw one of the developers saying they do intend to create some more.

    In conclusion, such a master piece as it is. But I do not condemn the people (me) who want more of heaven.

  • http://about.me/davidlnguyen David Nguyen

    This was on the top of the paid charts and I decided to give this a shot after reading this out of all the endless sea of good apps out there. This is a great game and I would love to see this more than the next generic flappy bird clone where the developer hopes to get even 1/100th of that guy made in a day.

  • Funem

    Ok, the game is short, incredibly short. I love logic puzzles and I love Escher so I was looking forward to this game. I completed this in about an hour and a half (ish). But you know what, its a great game, probably one of the best I have played on a mobile in some time. The simple, clean graphics combined emotion portrayed with the slightest movements and the minimalistic graphics makes it a joy to play. Its like a magic box, sometimes rotating parts of the maze of stairs and walls reveals fantastic hidden scenes, its just spot on perfect. I also love the fact you can take captures of the screen as you go along, one of them is now my lock screen. Well done devs it was worth every penny. If an expansion is planned, it would be fantastic but I don't know how that would fit with the story and its ending. my rating 6/5

  • LarryWP

    Amazing, incredible, beautiful, and for a strategy gamer like me to be awed by this kind of game, I'm lost for words. My wife and I both are playing this game at the same time on different devices and the "oh wow", "ah", "can't believe it" sounds that come from us are quite funny. We are both old farts too. ;)

  • LanceAvion

    Telltale's The Walking Dead and shows how popular 'experience' based games can be.

    Then again the CoDs of the world show the popularity of 'mechanic' based games.

  • Kyle

    I don't think that the lack of content per se is a problem with this game. Would I have played 2-3 times more of the same? Maybe not.

    I think what bugged me was that up until about level 6 or 7 I was assuming that this was going to be a puzzle game. You know, the sort of game where the first 80% is super easy and 99% of the time is spent stuck on the last 20%. Once it became clear that it was an "experience game" I was disappointed that it was obviously ending soon.

    Without being "that guy", maybe if it was cheaper I wouldn't be so fussed. I bought FTL at the same time so I don't think I'm that guy...

    I'll definitely be recommending this game to everyone, but with the caveat that it is short.

  • kokernutz

    Excellent game. We need more like it - highly polished and under 2 hours.

  • Fakko

    It looks like Edge, Percepto and Journey made a baby.

  • tpianca

    I really like how he defined the different kinds of games and I really wish that was stated clearly on every review, because I am really much more interested in experiences than in mechanics right now.

  • mzinn

    Brilliant game. Loved it right from the start. This is what i expect from games. Amazing gameplay. Perfect controls. Sound that fits the game & fantastic concept. Thank you for this treasure!

  • extol4000

    We own $200+ iPhones or iPod Touches. We can't spend a few dollars to support the developers that are constantly making the App Store what it is today? Would we still own an iPhone if it didn't have an App Store to buy apps from? Most of us would think twice. People really need to grow up.

Monument Valley Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 5