Monument Valley Remains One of the Most Hypnotic Mobile Games Ever
Nearly a decade later, its elegant beauty and simplicity still stand out.
Smartphones have evolved to the point where they can do almost anything The latest iPhone in your pocket has chips and processors inside more powerful than a PlayStation 4. But mobile games are still considered inferior compared to their PC or console counterparts, even when they can be amazing experiences themselves.
For many years, mobile gaming was seen as a gimmick rather than a feature. Even though it’s been over two decades, people still remember when your only option was to play Snake on your giant Nokia brick. When touchscreen phones became the norm, simple but addictive titles gained popularity. Angry Birds, Plants vs. Zombies, and even the brief reign of Flappy Bird have cemented themselves as the de-facto titles of a mobile generation. Gatcha games or Candy Crush clones now flood the App stores, milking every whale willing to drop thousands to get that brief dopamine rush. These cheap or free-to-play titles have convinced our brains that simple is the best way to play on the go.
But in April 2014, a game came along that completely revolutionized what a mobile game could be. Without guns, slingshots, or a need to endlessly tap, Monument Valley broke the mold. Developed by London-based studio Ustwo Games, it has players guide a princess as she makes her way through geometric puzzles that warp their own perspective on reality. Musical notes float your speakers or headphones as you spin knobs, push levers, and flip the whole map around. It’s a relaxing journey that really captures the joy of a puzzle game, all while confined to a tiny smartphone screen.
Monument Valley is gorgeous, letting you traverse through scenery straight out of an MC Escher painting dripping with charisma and charm. The eight-person development team worked to create a world that could be explored, without the game needing to hold your hand and tell you what to do.
“It was always important to us for players to be able to figure out what to do on their own, with little or no instruction from the game,” artist and designer Ken Wong told Wired in 2013. “Like a Mario game, our aim is to gradually teach a vocabulary of interactive elements during the early stages of the game.”
There aren’t any of the usual marketing tactics that got shoved inside phones to milk out every potential dollar the player might have in their bank account. The game started out with just 10 levels, giving players a solid experience that they could actually finish. Some mobile games are collect-a-thons, where the end game is never-ending and addictive. But Monument Valley’s developers broke the mold, with a fully engaging and mesmerizing experience encapsulated in these levels.
“With so many games, people never see the end, because there are so many hours of gameplay," Executive Producer Dan Gray told Polygon in 2014. "We wanted to make a game where you see the whole thing."
But that simple game design and lack of a need to constantly check timers or spend real-world money make Monument Valley timeless. There is a Monument Valley 2, but all it does is add more levels similar to the first, proving that a solid gameplay loop is all a game really needs. Flash and limited-time offers will never fill the void of a quality game.
In July 2022, Monument Valley received a Panoramic edition on Steam that adds HD compatibility to the title. No longer confined to the dimensions of a phone or tablet, you can really appreciate what the game is offering. I spent more time gawking at the scenery and messing with the crow people than actually solving the puzzles during my playthrough.
Art-based mobile games have definitely risen in popularity since Monument Valley first came on the scene. Please, Touch the Artwork turns surrealist art into puzzles, Alto’s Oddysey reimagines the endless runner, and Lucid Dream is a trippy romp through a little girl’s imagination. These titles all take inspiration from Monument Valley, which brought the art scene into your pocket.
There’s no doubt that video games across all consoles have changed a lot over the past nine years, but one point is certain. A beautiful game will always stand out in a sea of microtransactions and clutter.