I’ve been catching up on House of Cards S3. In one episode, Frank plays game on his iPad — a quick search told me he was playing Monument Valley; a quick search also told me I would love it. Ambient music, shifting Escher structures, and rules that only made sense once you looked at them from an entirely different angle.
Being that I’m starting work on the next Folley & Mallory project (#4), it was the perfect time to invest in a new video game. Who needs distraction more than the working author who is looking to avoid all those blank pages? Right.
There are many beautiful things about Monument Valley, though the first one I’m going to note is the thing most people complain about: it’s short and sweet. Monument Valley is, in many ways, like a short story — ten perfect levels. It has a companion volume — eight expansion levels — and also four more that are labeled a “dream.” But those few levels do much more than many longer games, so it’s perfect for play, for inspiration, for escape.
Monument Valley is the story of Ida, a lost princess who is looking for something she can’t quite name. She works her way through a series of broken, changeable, and forgotten monuments, to discover what that something is. In much the same way a writer will look at a new project, or an editor a new issue of their magazine. A problem is presented and must be conquered; sometimes that victory means you have to look at something in an entirely new way.
Sometimes, you have to turn a problem entirely around and over before you discover its solution.
Though the game is brief, the puzzles can take time; solutions and exits are not readily apparent. My favorite level (I think) is called The Oubliette, in which you are introduced to new game mechanics — even in the expansion levels, it’s a game that is always evolving, especially when you least expect it.
You have to constantly look at the screen with fresh eyes, with a new perspective. Being a tablet/mobile game, it’s easy to turn your device over and around, but not always so easy to see those new angles and passages. Much like a short story — what you need is often right in front of you, even if you can’t see it.
Pieces must be moved, exchanged, and moved again. Landscapes must be turned upon their heads.
What Monument Valley asks the most of you is patience. If you have the patience to explore these sacred geometries , you will find remarkable things; if you can route yourself around the squawking monsters, you will be rewarded. Not with gems, not with gold. Those aren’t the treasures Ida is after; she discovers much better things. She discovers exactly how her heart may be broken, and put back together.
Much as with stories, one must sometimes backtrack, and return to ground already trodden. Much as with stories, one must undo what they’ve already done, so that they can turn the proper corner, so that they can get to THE END.
And much as with stories, when you reach the end of Monument Valley (absolutely not pictured because spoilers), it may not be a thing you expected or planned.
I got chills at the ending of this game — it’s so perfect for all that comes before and yet I never saw it coming.
Monument Valley tells a perfect story, sets a perfect mood, carries you away. It gives you a protagonist with a problem in need of solutions. It gives you an ever-changing landscape, fierce monsters, flooded rooms, steampunk dreams, waterfalls, rock cliffs, true friends, certain death, shrieking eels — wait. No. There were no eels, shrieking or otherwise — and the princess is not a bride, and though she never speaks a single word, she has a story worth hearing.