By Betty Adamou
A few days ago, I had written a blog about Duet by Komobious, and that it was 1 of 2 games that I just had to write about, and so this is the second game I wanted to rave about; Monument Valley by Us Two games.
Early last week I was storyboarding a new ResearchGame using photoshop (I usually hand-draw my storyboards but I’ve taken to developing the storyboards straight in photoshop now) and I was in a bit of a creative rut regarding layouts and colour schemes to go with the story and objectives in the ResearchGame. When I feel like this, which luckily, isn’t very often, I often turn to my bookshelf filled with endless magazines that I save, not just for content, but for inspiration on graphics, layout, colour schemes or anything else, small or large, that might inspire a design idea.
While I was looking through an old copy of WIRED magazine, I spotted an article I promised myself I would keep in mind, but clearly I had forgotten about it since I read the magazine. The article was on an M.C. Escher style game with labyrinth-like geometric mazes, that was in development at that time for mobile devices, by a company called Us Two. The article itself was small, just a short column sat inside a page-wide screenshot of this new game “Monument Valley”. I looked for the release date and then my phone rang, distracting me from looking for the release-date that I wanted bookmark.
Rather serendipitously, my partner mentioned to me that ‘there’s this new game in the App store that looks like an M.C. Escher work’. When I checked it out, it was of course the Monument Valley game, noted in the App store as Editors Choice even though it was only released on April 3rd. I was using my iPad that evening, and I’m glad that I did, as I was able to see the game in its full, beautiful glory.
That evening, I played the entire game, without stopping, and open-mouthed in inspired energy and awe the whole time. Paul, my partner, who was busying himself with his own work that night, heard me at the beginning, middle and end of every level saying “Oh my god Paul, oh my god, come and have a look at this, quick, quick, quick!”. I would sit there, with an intake of breath, at the wonder this game inspired in me. I particularly loved the way entire buildings in the game would shift and alter, with the world seemingly vibrating with these movements and changes, as buildings evolved, rose and fell with new perspectives.
Essentially, the Monument Valley game is a platform-puzzle game, where you work out how this topsy-turvy world can make sense to get your character through to the top of each Monument. Your character, Ida, is a sprite-like and anonymously faced princess, moving swiftly from place to place as you get her to walk through doorways, up the upside-down or sideways stairs, and avoid the crows that squark in her path.
As the game progresses, the difficulty increases as to be expected, but with every new obstacle comes an equally awe-inspiring way that the world moves or can be manipulated by you as the player. You begin to move entire stairways and paths, and even rotate entire buildings to allow walkways to meet each other through the changing perspectives. Like something out of the 80’s Labyrinth movie, you see Ida walk sideways and upside-down with crows sitting and swinging their little legs in gravity-defying positions, much like the baby brother in the movie who sits completely upside-down in his striped babygro while Sarah figures out how to save him.
The Monument Valley game is so beautiful, I took screenshots at every level, wanting to savour this game as a work of art. The developers were quite right to add an ‘upload screen to camera roll’ option, as they suspected quite rightly that players would want to save the images of each level to admire later on.
The narrative throughout the game is intriguing and mysterious, where at the end of every level, Ida comes face-to-face with a wise spirit dressed in a turban, asking her strange questions and saying things which are about a time in this fictional history that was once grand and noble.
The narrative is the only thing that ever-so-mildly disappoints in Monument Valley. So intrigued was I about Ida, that I found myself Googling “Ida’s story”, “The Monuments Valley story meaning” with little to no avail. On the other hand though, the never-solved mystery of Ida and her world just might be one of the reasons that I purchased the game for a second time, (this time for my iPhone).
Unless you play the game, you won’t understand the full power of it’s artistry. If the developers (as they mentioned in the WIRED magazine) wanted to see if they could make a game as art, then I think it’s safe to say they achieved that in a way I could have never imagined. All the graphics and animations are just perfect. The colour schemes delicious and pastel-like and even the little legs on Ida and the way she climbs a ladder just looks so cute, it makes you want to hold her in your hand and watch her run around your palm. But the lack of links in the story doesn’t make you care for Ida any less. In fact, in one level where Ida has to make her way out of a multi-faceted box, I would open one side of the box, not see her there, and then worry briefly about where she was.
The sound effects and calming background sounds perfectly complimented the game. The audio, combined with the graphics, are reminiscent of a world where geometry and modern Asian architecture meet as one, with the tops of buildings shaped like the domes of the Taj Mahal, and the level start sound effect sounds like the soft and tinny gong of a symbol announcing a grand feast in an Indian palace. The background music is so calming that combined with the eye-opening amazement you feel, almost induces a meditative state. I particularly like the way in which you, as the player, can manipulate the worlds perspective using wheels and pulleys to the sound of staccato piano notes at every rotation or turn. These sounds reminded me of those wind-up toys you’d get as a child, with the wind-up wheel making the same kind of playful notes.
But who is Ida? Where has she come from? Why does the wise spirit call her a thieving princess? Why has she been foolish? Is she dead? What’s the red flower signify? I guess that unless I speak to the developers, I will never know. But I thank them massively for creating this art, this tear-jerkingly beautiful game that got me, for almost 2 hours, completely hooked but also sad that I will never be able to visit the Monument Valley myself. What needs to happen from here is a Monuments Valley 2 and 3 (4,5,6,7,8 etc) with a bit more unfolding regarding Ida’s story, and for UsTwo to make, in real life, the little wind-up box with the lights that features in Level 8. Also, if there could be a Monuments Valley art gallery/theme park experience (where I could walk sideways and upside-down too) I’d be very grateful. Please, please, please.
Oh and PS people at UsTwo; where are these delicious levels I’ve seen on Google Image which aren’t in the game?!