After playing the first Monument Valley, I purchased an iPad specifically to play the second together with my baby daughter. Coincidently, the story was about a journey of a mother, Ro and her child learning tricks to guide their way little by little. This gradually growing narrative marries well together with the incremental skill-building that players go through.
Incremental Introduction of Game Mechanics
Linelight, the award-winning puzzle game, is a good example how a game can introduce complex mechanics without instructions. In Linelight, a player encounters a single short linear light on a dark line leading to a brighter orange light on the opposite side. With limited options available, the player blindly tries basic keyboard inputs, and then figures out that the game objective is to lead the linear light to the orange light using arrow keys. As stages progress, more complex mechanics are introduced with more complex routes. Linelight maintains the balance between complexity and clarity, which is one of the biggest challenges in game design.
Monument Valley also guides its players through complex mechanics beautifully. In Monument Valley 2, the very initial learning process takes place in a dull gray scene, again with limited options for the player to do. Once the player learns the basic rules and reaches the goal of this short sample puzzle, the scene dramatically transforms with layers of mountains in the background followed by the title sequence; Monument Valley also introduces the learning sample as a key to uncover its aesthetics to begin the story. Even its suggestion to play with sounds (suggesting to use headphones to respect others around) is integrated elegantly in loading sequence. There are many such treatments to lead players to have a better experience.
Aesthetics and Mechanics Created by Isometric 3D
The use of isometric 3D in MV introduced complex rotational and reflectional mechanics for solving puzzles that constructed unique spatial compositions. The isometric 3D also helped with vertical transitions, which allowed gradual complication of mechanics within a unified scene. Inspired by abstractable geometric architecture from all over the world, scenes are a beautiful but uncomfortable mixture of the familiar and the mysterious.
In addition, the relationship between Ro and her child appears more vulnerable within the lack of perspective by not focusing on either character specifically while being in the challenging scene; It sparks an emotional connection between characters and the player.
Heavy in Narrative, but Lacking in Challenge
However, the narrative-heavy MV2 lacked in players satisfaction for solving puzzles. The original mechanics were constrained within isometric axis which helped players to predict and simulate strategies. However, some of the new mechanics broke these constraints and added complexity whose logic cannot be understood by players. Players have to rely on simple trial and error without a need to strategize. I would limit new mechanical devices since successful variations can still evolve from the original foundation.
Collaboration between Ro and her child can be a great driver that also corresponds to the story. There is a scene with Ro and her child working opposite each other. Players have to rotate the World to solve puzzles on each side to complete the scene. Instead, I would use a concept in which Ro rediscovers her child to add a surprising factor. What can be achieved by collaborating can intensify as scenes go or they could revisit older scenes where Ro couldn’t have completed by herself but can now by collaboration.