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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Review: Monument Valley (Android)

It is rare that I play games on smartphones, let alone get to the point where I review them. That's mostly because most games on smartphones are cash grabs that are disrespectful of the consumer and have neither aesthetics or sense of art about what games are about. Rather, they're mostly micro-transaction driven attempts to cater to the addictive behavior of humans at a primitive level. I even find such games offensive when they target children.

Monument Valley is a welcome exception. It's a puzzle game that makes use of touch to control just one or two objects, plus the main character (the protagonist) of the game. It adheres to several rules: first, no move or attempt to solve the puzzle can put you in an irrecoverable position. Hence, there are no "game over" situations. Secondly, each chapter (the game is divided into 10 of them) introduces just a few concepts, gives them a work-over, and then is over in a matter of at most 20 minutes. This prevents the concepts from being over-worked and the game never feels repetitive, while not being so context-driven that you can't finish a chapter in a session, which would lead to the game overstaying its welcome in a mobile environment.

The puzzles are not difficult: many of the perspective driven puzzle have its roots in rotational and illusions first seen in Fez, but while Fez is epic and occasionally frustratingly hard, Monument Valley never became frustrating for me, and felt breezingly easy, so much so that I got started on a bus trip and was done by the end of the day. The developers are part of a firm specializing in UI design, and so excel at making clear what it is that you need to do with a minimum of clues.

As with Murasaki Baby, the game is short, with a play time of just about 3 hours, but for $4 full price, it's well worth the time and money. By the way, I tend to buy games like this on the Amazon App Store, not only because I have a bunch of Amazon coins (which essentially means that the game's free), but also because I can share the app with my wife simply by using the Amazon app store login.

The Forgotten Shores Add-in (purchased via in-app purchase) adds another 8 levels to the 10 that are in the default game. The cost is $1.99, and it nearly doubles the length of the game. The add-on's levels are just a little bit harder, enough to stump me for a few minutes at the end, but the quality is every bit as high as in the original. I do not usually pay for in-app purchases (and granted, I paid with coins this time as well), but this was well worth the money and time and clearly not a cash grab.  In fact, you can see that the ROI on the expansion wasn't nearly as high as on the game. In fact, analyzing their finances, it doesn't seem that even having a hit game with tons of awards on the app store isn't going to net you very much money without being evil and pushing micro-transactions every which way.

Monument Valley and Forgotten Shores come highly recommended.

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