If you're the kind of person who balks at the idea of shelling out four bucks for a game that can be finished almost as quickly as a four buck cup of coffee, hit the back button now. Monument Valley is one such game, and for those whose concept of value for money is tied to the number of hours spent playing, it won't so much float your boat as sink it like it had just hit an iceberg.
However, those with a more flexible approach to the cost of entertainment and how it relates to the value that can be derived from it, keep reading. Because Monument Valley is an utterly gorgeous, super-stylish puzzle game that is absolutely captivating - while it lasts. Which, for the average puzzling smartypantses amongst us, might stretch to perhaps an hour or so. Those less experienced with puzzle games, or players who just want to savor every last drop of this gaming equivalent of nouvelle cuisine might well be able to eke out double that time before Monument Valley's climax is reached.
So why - and spoiler alert, but I'm assuming you've already scrolled down to take a peek at how many stars have been awarded to this game - is Monument Valley getting four and a half of them? Well, it's all down to the quality of the entertainment on offer here, not the quantity. Sure, when I finished this game I really, really wanted more of it, but nevertheless I still felt that I'd more than gotten my money's worth. That's because this MC Escher-inspired puzzle game is a joy to play on many levels. It packs brilliant moments of discovery: smack-your-forehead situations where you're completely flummoxed, but then are utterly delighted when you figure out what you need to do. It has moments of wonder as something comes into view, or something unexpected happens, or when pieces of architecture literally click into place. And it all plays through an audio-visual experience that is of the utmost quality.
The game is conceptually simple, as all good puzzle games are. You're charged with helping a stylized Princess, the game's heroine, reach the exit point of each level. These are all beautifully drawn and rendered architectural constructs whose components can be manipulated to create a path so that the Princess can reach her goal. Like I said - simple in concept, but of course not in practice. As parts of each construct are moved, spun or twisted, perspectives can be literally changed to make impossible-looking paths suddenly appear in true Escher style. In some sense it's quite mind-bending, but it's also supremely satisfying when your eyes are telling you that something won't work, but your brain has a hunch that it will... and then through some deft maneuvering you make it so.
The proceedings are presented very minimally, and because of that there are one or two moments of potential minor frustration as you try to figure out what manipulation options are available on a particular screen - which could have been solved with perhaps a visual cue or two. But this is a minor quibble, because otherwise Monument Valley is intuitive and rewarding to play. It's also a joy to watch and listen to. Headphones are highly recommended so this game's fantastic ambient soundtrack and beautifully subtle effects can be appreciated to their fullest. And as for the levels themselves: they almost feel like pages from a book. What you see here is what you get. So crisp and clean, and wonderfully conceived.
Everything in this game comes together to deliver a memorable experience. In an odd, nebulous kind of way, Monument Valley reminds me of Journey in the sense that it draws you in to the point where the outside world almost doesn't exist - just like a really good book can do. Yes, it's all too brief, but to me its brilliance transcends its brevity. Regardless of length, it's a superb example of video gaming, and one that I think could well qualify as a piece of gaming art. I'd be happy to argue that - but you need to play it first.