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Memory Leaks: Monument Valley

🐦 Into the Light of a Dark Black Night...

Monument Valley is an indie puzzle game for phones and tablets published by Ustwo Games in 2014. You guide Princess Ida through a series of mazes and puzzles that use optical illusions and shifts in perspective to unlock new paths and solutions. If the perspective shifts so that two separate platforms appear to be next to each other, Ida can now move across them.

How I Remember It...

This game is a delight. It's atmospheric, mournful, and utterly charming, and on top of all of that it sports solid gameplay using a fairly original mechanic. Just like Portal was able to take a simple unique gameplay conceit and spin it out into now two full games, Monument Valley takes an Escher-inspired landscape and teases out a series of increasingly intricate puzzles for you to navigate.

The game does a great job of balancing its elements. It knows when to lean on gameplay and when to streamline that in order to let the story have a moment to shine. The design is inventive and often quite evocative, but it never gets in the way. The puzzle solutions are challenging but never feel unfair, and even after multiple play-throughs finally arriving at the correct path feels satisfying. The story feels poignant but it's not bogged down with exposition--you're never really filled in on what exactly is happening, but even with that minimalism Ida's journey feels complete and moving.

But the real standout is the design. The game was originally meant to be played on phones and tablets in portrait mode, and because of that the levels have a real emphasis on verticality. You're frequently traveling up, up, up to get to the end and watching new elements descend into the play area. Ida's design is simple but iconic, as are the bird people you encounter throughout the game. It's all very chill, but it never feels vapid or weightless.

If we want to point out downsides, it's worth noting that it's a short game that's not terribly difficult, although more content has been added. There was a paid DLC side-story added on later and a very challenging bonus level. In 2016 the game received a full sequel that's fairly decent. This year the entire series was released on Steam as a "Panoramic Edition" that I'm curious to give a try. So much of the design is geared towards verticality that I wonder how it will play in a 16x9 frame.

In MEMORY LEAKS, Kurt is going through his favorite video games. See more posts.