Review: Monument Valley 228 Jun 2017 3
Review: Monument Valley 2
Released 05 Jun 2017
It’s always fun when a game is announced and released almost simultaneously. It doesn’t happen for obvious reasons with the big publishers, but smaller developers rely on word of mouth to build up support - a minor plot device on Netflix’s House of Cards doesn’t hurt as well.
2014’s Monument Valley won over critics with its visuals, stunning level design and post-ambient soundtrack. Inspired by the likes of M. C Escher, the game has been subject to numerous post-mortems to try and understand how Ustwo Games created its labyrinth-esque design. And just like the original, the sequel has takes us by surprise - strutting into the room like it owns the place (it does).
The original was reminiscent of 2007’s Portal: a small, concise puzzle game that uses a core concept and knows when to get out. Also, like Portal, it’s incredibly clever - manipulating the player’s perception and asking them to look at levels from multiple angles. By flipping parts of the level round (when it allows) you can find different ways to traverse the environment, sometimes forcing you to walk along the side of a path or upside down. The end goal in Monument Valley is always clear; it’s how you reach that point which requires poking and prodding at the environments structure to get there.
The game is designed as an experience more than a challenge. The puzzle mechanics are clearly defined and the levels flow in a linear fashion. What gives Monument Valley 2 the worthy title of ‘sequel’ is the story. Story, perhaps is a loose description, with brief cut scenes between levels only providing cryptic thread beats behind a messenger who is never explained. But the game does incorporate a visually narrative thread that incorporates themes of motherhood, growth and separation. The game begins with - while neither are necessarily ever defined - a mother called Ro and her unnamed daughter. With the impressionable daughter following behind her mother’s every step. The game quickly attempts to form an emotional bond, as you’ll be split from your daughter across most levels, and the focus is always on finding a way back to her. The moment when you come together at the end of the level for an emotional brace is heartwarming and works as an effective motive - an effective trade off for the decrease in difficulty that was prevalent in the original. And this is the key difference between the two games: the original grabs you on a technical level, while the sequel aims for emotion. Though the two still tread in each others territory, as Monument Valley 2 is still both technically and visually engrossing. Levels open up like Russian nesting dolls; environments split in two while still interconnected, with mother and daughter on either side, working together to find switches that will help to reach the end goal.
Though the game is loose on the core story being told, you can trace the beats between the beginning and middle parts with only the ending feeling not wholly thought out. It’s an abstractive game for abstractions sake, but abstraction typically works on the theory of “it’s open to interpretation”, but here, the game doesn't give much to interpret.
Monument Valley 2 comes to life with the small touches; the aforementioned embrace at the end of the a level, the charming hopping/walking animation the child uses, the gentle glimmering on the sand. It all makes what should feel like a static environment of solid shapes and objects truly come to life. Also, and this shouldn’t come as a surprise if you played the original, the post-ambient soundtrack is truly, blissfully immersive, treading a line between Radiohead’s Kid A the back catalogue of Sigur Ros. I’ve complained on a few reviews about being booted out of my podcast app due to a game wanting to hog the spotlight, and if there ever was a game that should demand such attention (and doesn’t) it is Monument Valley 2. Add the sounds of sliding walls, the patter of the child’s feet being brought to the forefront during the quiet moments, the crescendo of the music during the finale of an important section. It’s such a delightful game to get wrapped up in.
As with the original you're left wanting more; the package from beginning to end is over in a criminally short amount of time. Mechanics introduced are put back on the shelf after a single use, and it feels as if Ustwo Games only briefly stretch their legs out on some of the ideas used, which is the complaint of an unappreciative twerp who has no basic understanding of the complexities involved in making video games - and I get that, but it’s hard to come away from Monument Valley 2 without feeling disappointed that ideas were not used to their full potential.
The thing is Euclidean Lands now exists, which took the core idea of Monument Valley and greatly expanded on it with its ‘Hitman Go meets a rubix cube’ approach. And by comparison, though Monument Valley 2 is a wonderful game, it never truly gets out of the shadow of its predecessor. With that said, it is still absolutely essential to play this game just to appreciate the artistic merit and technical achievement - such was the case for the original. Though you’d probably label it as a puzzle game, it has more in common with grand whimsical adventure tones of Journey. But on that notion you may leave you feeling short-changed - I would argue that some experiences are just worth paying for. Put your headphones on and get lost for a couple of hours.