Format plays much the same role in modern writing that fate played for the ancient Greeks. Monument Valley 2 is exactly what that title suggests, and the original was so popular that there’s little need for reviews. But I’m a game reviewer, and to resist describing it would invite the intervention of displeased gods. So: Monument Valley took the inspiration for its puzzles from M.C. Escher, its visual style from Helvetica and sunsets, and its lightly-presented narrative from maturing, regret, and making amends (and how distinct are those, really?). It was the sort of gem which made people feel like there was still something they could use to show off the potential of touchscreen devices to jaded onlookers. MV2 refines that success very gently.
This time, either the level designers have adapted their craft to better suit the warped paths of the human mind, or I have learnt their ways. The first game’s puzzles were sometimes baffling, leading me at times to tap all over the screen in the hope of randomly happening upon an unsuspected interface element. MV2’s levels never caused such unpleasant breaks in their flow–their solutions weren’t always immediately obvious to me, but the methods of finding them were. The exacerbates the game’s brevity. Like its predecessor, MV2 derives its value from the quality of the experience more than its challenge or duration; it was no stretch for me to finish it in a normal day.
Part of this ease of navigation comes from the relative paucity of mechanical innovation. The primary new device arises from the narrative: the principle character from the first game is now joined by her daughter as a playable character in some levels. As a father of two, I find the addition of children to any but the most innocuous game the most effective method of escalating its emotional stakes. Fortunately for those who abhor spoilers, that remains true no matter the outcome.
To illustrate my point I’ll talk about a game I can’t spoil, mainly due to the fact that I’ve yet to play it. Consider how The Last of Us could have gone. I understand there’s a dude and a girl, who is either his daughter or filling that role. Suppose the dude dies at the end, and the girl is left all alone, with the player just hoping they’ve done enough to prepare her. Pathos to eleven. But suppose the girl dies, but the dude lives: still shattering, but also a superb way to evoke despair for the future. Maybe they both live, coming to rely on one another as the girl matures. Or perhaps they suffer overwhelming difficulties which drive them apart, even though their lives depend on their cooperation. Then, of course, there’s the Shakespearean option. I have difficulty swallowing when I imagine any one of these.
Monument Valley introduced a minimalist world of beauty, tragedy, and grace. The parent-child relationship is an utterly brilliant fit for the series. Even the best case scenario involves the child outgrowing the need for parents; felicitous parenting defeats itself. For most Stately Play readers, MV2 will be short and easy, perhaps disappointingly so, yet I imagine only a very small proportion of the game-playing public wouldn’t find it worth playing. I only hope that I am able to share it with my family, and that, as before, ustwo games releases an expansion.