Monument Valley 2 Review

Monument Valley 2 by UsTwo Games isn’t just an amazing game, and isn’t just a sequel to an amazing game. It’s a rich, emotionally-intelligent art piece, bursting with creativity and polished to perfection.

Monument Valley 2 Screenshot 1

Monument Valley 2 Screenshot 2

Monument Valley 2 Screenshot 3

I can’t help but describe Monument Valley 2 with enthusiasm. The first Monument Valley was an achievement in its own right, an ingenious puzzler with a melancholy ambiance and creative-yet-accessible M.C. Escher-esque traversal puzzles, perfectly suited for touchscreen gameplay. But despite my fond memories of the original game, when I first glimpsed its follow-up in the App Store, I was worried. Could the sequel live up to the original’s legacy? Or would it simply retread old paths, failing to break new ground?

Upon launching the game, my fears were immediately laid to rest. Monument Valley 2, while arguably less difficult than the original, is more cinematic, creative and emotionally engaging than I could have anticipated. The core gameplay is the more-or-less the same as the original, requiring players to rotate and shift impossible architecture, making way for their characters to traverse mind-bending puzzles on-foot. However, the game is more varied this time around. Tricks of light, multiple characters and brand new structures are only a few of the new additions, keeping the experience fresh and engaging, without relying too heavily on a single innovation.

Monument Valley 2 employs simple polygons and stylish designs to create a world that is mysterious and dreamlike, yet intensely perceptible. The game’s music and sound design work in tandem with the visuals, utilizing musical cues to heighten atmospheric tension, from ominous footsteps in a quiet room to an orchestral swell when the player triggers a cutscene. It’s extremely immersive, from beginning to end.

Thematically, this is a story of mysterious grand designs, small cogs that can turn big cogs, and a love that transcends separation and the passing of time. By introducing a mother-daughter relationship to the game, UsTwo widens the game’s breadth of gameplay, and adds a new layer of emotional depth to the player’s experience. What does it feel like to be a parent? How can the concerns, fears and love of a parent be harnessed to engage players? For instance, a collapsing wall, on its own, is a frightening and dangerous thing. But what if your own child is standing at the top of the wall? What if you are powerless to reach them? What if you do have the power to reach them, but are short on time? Can one character have the same emotional impact on a player as two characters, engaging with each other on a relatable level?

Monument Valley 2 is an emotionally-engaging, mind-bending, visually-stunning tour de force, and despite its short play time, is one of the best games available on iOS. For the amount of sheer effort that’s clearly been poured into it, $4.99 is a steal. Buy it. And play it with the sound on.

6 Stars

 

Ori and the Blind Forest Review

Ori and the Blind Forest by Moon Studios has been out for well over a year and has already seen the release of a Definitive Edition for multiple platforms, but I’ve only now just had the pleasure of playing it. Truthfully, the word pleasure is an understatement, as Ori and the Blind Forest is one of the most mind-bogglingly excellent games I’ve ever played, and is an absolute must-play for anyone with an Xbox One or a decent PC.

Ori and the Blind Forest Screenshot 1

Ori and the Blind Forest Screenshot 2

Ori and the Blind Forest Screenshot 3

The story of Ori and the Blind Forest is simple, but heartfelt. Ori, a glowing white spirit-creature, lives happily in a healthy forest, but disaster strikes when a hostile bird attacks the heart of the forest’s Spirit Tree. As in most Metroidvania games, the player must traverse the landscape, gaining new powers that enable them to travel further and grow more powerful, in order to restore balance to the world. Though the storyline might sound a little typical on the surface, the game’s audio and visual design elevate the experience to another level entirely, and I’d be surprised if even the most hardened cynic didn’t find a tear in their eye during the opening cinematic.

Ori’s gameplay, as with its visuals and audio, is transcendent. As the player gains powers and grows stronger through a simple upgrade tree, Ori’s controls become second-nature. Triple-jumps and complicated combos are no trouble for an upgraded player, and combined with the game’s incredible foley and visual effects, all combos and attacks are extremely satisfying to perform. All the while, gorgeous backdrops and lighting bring the world to life, tied together by a detailed and easily-navigatable 2D map: an essential tool in any Metroidvania, where a great deal of time is spent navigating the complex world maze. Ori moves quickly, so long distances are easy to travel, though there are always plenty of items to pick up along the way.

While the game’s chase-scene challenges prove to be quite difficult, Ori can save the game in any safe area, provided that his Soul Link meter is fully charged. It’s a wonderful addition to the game, and results in the player only needing to backtrack or replay an area if they failed to set a proper checkpoint for themselves. The game’s progression is well-paced and addicting, and while the game can be finished with 100% completion in only a few hours, the entire experience is so memorable and beautiful that the short completion time is completely tolerable.

Ori and the Blind Forest Gif

Ori and the Blind Forest is fantastic, from beginning to end. The controls are spot-on, the sound design is gorgeous and rich, the visuals are striking, charming and varied, and the overall experience is tied together beautifully with a heartfelt story and addicting game progression. If you’re running a decent PC and are a fan of Metroidvanias, 2D platformers or classic action adventure games, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Buy this game.

6 Stars