Having being born in the 90s I can safely say I’ve experienced the most exciting development in gaming. My first gaming platform was the Gameboy Colour, which was bought by my Father on our holiday in Majorca at the cusp of the millennium, along with the original Pokémon Red game and one or two 15-in-one games. Owning a Gameboy at the time was the most fashionable thing a kid could own, alongside any of the new gaming platforms such as a PS1.
The gaming world has moved quick and fast since then and with the introduction of Apps in the late 2000s, gaming has been revolutionized by this accessible platform. Anyone who owns a relatively decent smartphone or tablet can choose from literally thousands of free or affordable games. One game that I chose in particular was Monument Valley, a game that won the 2014 Apple Design Awards, developed by Ustwogames. The game is available on iOS for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Android and Amazon.
Most app-based games have relatively simple fundamentals, such as a progressive story or addictive gameplay. Monument Valley has digressed from this basic tradition to offer a more mature and artistic stance on gaming.
Upon opening the game you are welcomed by an art-deco frame surrounding the words ‘Monument Valley – ustwo’, followed by the title screen. The level select screen is an interactive podium as such, that rotates in ascending order in accordance to your progression, marked by roman numerals (I – X).
My curiosity drew me to rotate this podium. On rotating the form I was immediately presented with a soft strum of a stringed instrument, only to discover that the tempo of the sounds changed in relation to the movement of the structure. This early interaction with the object set an expectation of what was to come.
The first level introduces the player to the two most simple yet fundamental movements ‘tap the path to move Ida’ and ‘hold to move’ (one can assume from this that the protagonist is named Ida). This instruction would be the only one of the entire game. Never before have I played a game of such beauty and such simplicity, in so much as it has a subtle introduction to the controls of the game.
The most immediate quality of the game is the simplicity of the illusionistic landscape Ida has to navigate. From moving a path to create another with a lever, the ‘infinite triangle’ object manifests itself in the terrain, defying traditional physical restrictions. The premise of utilising the surreal and illusionistic landscape is apparent throughout the game, only to become more stunningly complex whilst preserving its visual simplicity.
Chapter II entitled ‘The Garden’ introduces the first hint at a storyline with ‘Ida embarks on a quest for forgiveness’, setting the mysterious tone for the game. This early chapter gives a taste for the symmetrical layout that creates the ‘impossible’ quality of the architecture.
Ida is drawn to a tile that activates a shift in the terrain. As a plinth rises, an implausibleconnection is made to the upper tier of the map, demonstrating the intricacy of the design and the consideration for perspective as well as introducing the puzzle element of the game.
For me, the most exciting feature of the game is the minimalistic design of the architecture, and the interpretation of MC Escher’s Relativity. The ongoing visual theme echoes the gravity defying qualities of Escher’s work, drawing on the surreal existence of the characters and their interaction with the illusionistic environment; in this case we are presented with Ida. The smooth and seamless transitioning between each environment maintains the beauty of the game and allows the gamer to enjoy the artistic qualities of the design.
In later chapters of the game, it goes on to tell short stories revealing more about Ida’s character. The game also consistently pushes the boundaries of aesthetic design with it’s depthless confines, complex structure and illusory formations seemingly impressing you that little bit more as the game goes on.
Monument Valley is one of the most immersive and strikingly beautiful games I have played on any platform. The combination of soft aesthetically pleasing landscapes, architecture and ambience paired with simple yet captivating game play presents an impressive combination that should be explored, whether you game for entertainment or to pass the time.