When the original Monument Valley was released back in 2014, it set a high watermark for mobile games. The gameplay, visual design and soundtrack were outstanding for the time and four years later they still hold up very well.
While a sequel was inevitable, we were taken by surprise when Monument Valley 2 was suddenly revealed on stage during Apples WWDC 2017 keynote. Fortunately, we will not have to wait for months to get the game (like everything else that was announced during that keynote) and the game was pretty much already on the store by the time it was shown on stage. Of course, with Apples marketing muscle behind this one, the game is pretty much an iOS exclusive for now but an Android version will likely be coming few months down the line.
Monument Valley 2 comes in strong on the shoulders of the original game. This is both good and bad for it. For one, it already has a running start, with everyone knowing about the game, and the sequel is likely to sell gangbusters. On the other hand, it also has some pretty big shoes to fill and thats not going to be an easy task.
In Monument Valley 2, we follow the story of Ro and her daughter as they navigate the otherworldly mazes that we saw in the first game. There is an underlying story here but it is very sparse on details and the events of the game are largely a mystery.
The characters and the story, however, dont really matter all that much as the real hero of this game is the level design. Like the first one, MV2 features M.C. Escher inspired optical illusions, with the platforms forming impossible shapes. You have to move columns and platforms and create paths that would be impossible in the real world but due to the power of optical illusions, the paths seem to visually connect and in the game world that is enough to create a physical path.
In the first game we were introduced to the concept of turning and sliding platforms and also cases where you could spin the entire level to move your character along to their goal. MV2 introduces a few more elements, such as a plant that has blocky foliage that can be used as platform and you can control the size of the plant by adjusting the amount of light falling on it. Elements carried over from previous game have also been used in some new and interesting way.
Leaving aside how the levels look aesthetically, their design is brilliant. A lot of thought has gone into making the illusions work while also aiding gameplay and the way the platforms slide, swivel and move in general is masterfully done, with brilliantly fluid animations. A particular source of joy are levels where you dont just move parts of the level but the entire level and one can only imagine the sheer mental gymnastics that must have gone into crafting them.
The gameplay is identical to the previous game. The character(s) have to move to a particular spot on the level, which may or may not be immediately accessible and in the latter case reveals itself as you progress through the level. You tap on the platform to move the character to that particular spot and if its on the same plane with a clear path the character will move there automatically.
With two characters, it is fair to assume you would be controlling both at some point and MV2 does have levels where you control both independently through the same levels to different goals. However, these levels are few and far between and through most of the fourteen levels, you will be just guiding one character around, with the other character following behind automatically or not present in the level at all.
Bringing the exceptional level design to life is the aesthetic of the game. Monument Valley 2 is a stunning game to look at and it has a lot to do with the color palette for every level. Like the original, MV2 uses a lot of bold color combinations with smooth gradients. The different platforms are clearly shaded so you know you which plane you are on. The game prioritizes minimalism, with quite a few levels using no more than 3-4 colors across the level. It also makes stunning use of light and dark elements, with deep blacks for background and then beams of searing bright light cutting through them pulling your attention. The designers werent afraid of being flamboyant and some levels use a wide palette of bright colors.
None of this is random and each level design and color scheme carries the mood of that level. Levels where Ro is away from her daughter for the first time are monochromatic. The daughter, on the other hand, has more playful, colorful levels. The levels where Ro is talking with the spirits are all black with just the level in the center glowing.
The animations also tell a lot of the story. Even though the characters are tiny, they carry a lot of expression in the way they walk and interact. And although not a word of dialogue is spoken between the two, you really connect with the mother-daughter duo and feel for them every time they get separated or reunite.
Supplementing the visual design is the audio. The background score is excellent but its also the way its incorporated thats interesting. Like the previous game, the music plays when you move any of the platforms and it adjusts depending upon how much you move or how quickly you move it. No matter how you move them, the audio always seems pleasant and is chosen so that despite repeated movements it wouldnt grate on you. What I would have liked to see, however, is integration with the Taptic Engine on the iPhone as it would have made certain interactions more immersive.
Of course, the game isnt perfect. Like the first one, MV2 isnt a particularly challenging game. You really dont need to put a lot of thought into many of the puzzles and even playing them first time though it feels like you already know the solution. The only times I got stuck was when I didnt see a movable platform somewhere, and not because the game presented a particularly difficult problem.
The fact that you just tap to move also makes the game easier and gives you even less to do. If you had to actually draw out a path it would probably be a bit more challenging. Its like having a maze puzzle where you can tap on the goal and watch your character move there automatically without you tracing the path yourself.
The game didnt make full use of the two characters and the levels where you play with both were fewer than Id have liked. Actually, the game itself isnt very long and although there will likely be an expansion pack later you can blitz through this in about an hour and a half.
In the end, Monument Valley 2 is still a worthy sequel to the original game. While it doesnt break any new ground or push the envelope too much, what we get is still quite substantial for a mobile game. The level design and visuals remain the highlight and this will likely be the prettiest mobile game you will see for a while. But while immensely cool to watch, the gameplay errs too much on the simple side and offers no challenge to the player whatsoever. If you go in expecting a puzzle game you likely wont be impressed. But treat it as a work of art and you wont be disappointed because thats really what this game is.