As surprise releases go, Monument Valley 2 belongs on a short list with Fallout Shelter as one of the most welcome instant releases in mobile games history. It is, for lack of a more apt descriptive term, stunning in many aspects, but it leaves one wanting more — and not necessarily in the positive way.
For the many, many fans of the first game, it will come as no surprise that Monument Valley 2 is a master class in storytelling. There are two protagonists this time, a woman named Ro and her daughter, and their tale covers classic themes of parents needing to figure out how to let go and children learning to stand on their own. The way the developers are able to wring so much emotion out of character who don’t even have faces is endlessly impressive.
So, too, is the game’s soundtrack, which is in turns haunting, sad, dramatic and triumphant. The music and sound effects will both stay with you long after you log out, and while many games say they are better played with headphones on, this is one for which that pre-game urging is actually accurate.
Other than telling the player to tap to make Ro walk, there’s not much in the way of a tutorial — but that’s a feature and not a bug. The best way to grasp gameplay mechanics both new and old is to start tapping on things and trying to slide them around. Even people who never touched the first game will have no problem diving in and figuring out how things work.
Exploration on the part of the player mirrors the journey the characters are making, and yes, that’s meant to be plural since Ro’s daughter plays a part too. Moving two characters in tandem or separately helps breath new life into things you’ll recall from the first game — the Totem makes a welcome return, for one — and helps mitigate the fact that there’s no real stakes in failing to grasp any particular puzzle. If you can’t immediately grasp a certain level, you’re simply stuck in place until you figure it out.
Not that you probably will for very long. It took this reviewer approximately two hours to get through everything Monument Valley 2 has to offer (and that’s despite yours truly not being anything close to a puzzle game ace), as well as a twist I can’t share for spoiler reasons that extends the game a bit. My 10-year-old daughter is only allowed 20 minutes of screen time on a school night and was able to easily blaze through about five levels.
The length of a game is a tricky thing. Certainly, we all want developers to tell the story they want to tell, and ustwo does it so wonderfully that you hesitate to want a thing changed. It also wouldn’t feel right if a Monument Valley title was sullied by IAPs, ads or anything else that detracts from the experience. Those things have their places in mobile gaming, just not here.
Still, it’s hard to deny that there isn’t as much of Monument Valley 2 as you wish there would be. It almost feels like right when it has its hooks in you the most, it’s over. Some people aren’t going to be bothered by that because what’s there is so sublime, but any full review needs to consider it.
(Also … what happened to the crows?)
If we gave subgrades for things like presentation and storytelling, Monument Valley 2 would get a perfect score and then some. It’s that good in those areas. It just falls a tad short of perfect in terms of an overall score because it is so short. Maybe the best way to sum it up is like this: as a work of art, it’s nearly unparalleled — but as a game, it’s just a bit less.