Mobile gaming so often feels like it’s in a tearing hurry - as if should it stop for a single moment, it will somehow be ‘discovered’ as being some kind of interloper, trespassing on terrain long since claimed by ‘proper’ games.
So keen are titles for you to barrel through every level at breakneck pace, only pausing to collect your three stars, that there’s barely room for contemplation and scant regard for beauty.
Monument Valley (released last month on iOS, and last week for Android) is an exception, a game at odds with the bulk of its contemporaries and which instead immerses you in a world of visual wonder and impossible pathways.
It’s a place that can only exist within the realm of a videogame, but the title nonetheless fashions a reality that feels intuitive and tactile, even as you’re pawing away at a piece of glass.
AN IMPOSSIBLE QUEST
You begin with a silent white-robed princess, Ida, faced with an Escher-like construction, her path blocked. You soon discover she’ll move to wherever you tap, assuming she’s able; when that’s not the case, you must carefully manipulate the architecture that surrounds her.
At first, a simple cog rotates a Tetris-like block, revealing a new route that simply cannot exist - but in Monument Valley, perception is everything, and if it looks like Ida can cross a pathway, she can.
As you venture onwards, deeper into the valley, the monuments increase in complexity. Distant doorways beckon, and protruding columns enable you to twist the very scenery. As a tower is rotated, its form undulates; like a clockwork music box, notes play as you try to align seemingly separate blocks into a coherent, solid track. Occasionally, slowly patrolling crow people obstruct your way, challenging you to find a means to leave them stranded, so you can continue on your quest.
Peppered throughout the game, Ida gains hints of her purpose and the history of the valley, but you’re largely left to make sense of everything yourself. The conclusion is swift, final but elegant - a satisfying end to an enigmatic journey, but one that’s over rather quickly. A mere hour or two is enough to exhaust the secrets of the ten monuments, and with the exception of a couple of perplexing puzzles towards the end, Monument Valley doesn't provide anything more than the slightest of challenges.
There’s also a nagging feeling that it never quite fulfils its potential regarding the world it sets up and the intriguing narrative it weaves. You might wonder, then, why we reckon you should go and buy Monument Valley immediately. Why should you spend a few pounds on a game that lasts barely longer than a movie?
Do so to experience something different and unique; to spend a short time being mesmerised by something delightful; for those moments of joy when optical illusions shift and change before your very eyes; to reward a developer willing to craft an evocative, beautiful world you can truly savour; and to show that you’re not so jaded by mobile gaming that you think everything should be free, generic and entirely throwaway.