Monument Valley

I've succumbed to the hype and downloaded Monument Valley. I really like a lot of the game, but overall came away feeling a bit disappointed.

Monument Valley isn't in my wheelhouse of the types of games I usually buy. If I'm being honest, my game choices tend to run to the rather conservative side. I mostly play console ports or other games that follow traditional formats. My favorite iOS games are LEGO Batman (which I believe is now called LEGO DC), FIFA 14, Madden, Tetris, and NBA Jam. I also have a couple of shooters like Call of Duty: Strike Team, which I haven't really gotten far into but is on my list. There are several more that fit into this mold that I've purchased but don't currently have on my phone for space reasons.

So a game like Monument Valley really isn't "my type" of game. But once I saw the technorati losing their heads over this game (and the fact that I had some credit in iTunes), I decided to spend the $3.99 and give it a shot. 

I would describe MV as a puzzle game. You guide the character, Ida, through a world that somewhat resembles those M.C. Escher posters where the staircases and walkways are going in different directions. You manipulate the environment with taps, twists, spins, and swipes in order to set a path so that Ida can get to the end of the level. The mechanics are very simple but the game offers a good level of challenge as you try to figure out how to manipulate the environment just so.

The graphics seem to be one of the reasons why this game is so popular. Simply put, they are gorgeous. They look like they're vector-drawn and are pretty minimalist in style. The characters and environment aren't drawn to be hyper realistic or life-like but more whimsical. The colors are outstanding. The game really does look like a work of art. I played the game on my iPhone 5S but also downloaded it for my iPad Mini Retina. What looked good on the iPhone was even better on the iPad. Stunning. But this does bring up one of my criticisms of the game.


There is no syncing of the game between devices, which was pretty disappointing. I completely understand that if you just make an iPhone version or an iPad version that you may not want to devote the development resources towards syncing. But if you're making an app, especially a game, that is universal, you owe it to your customers to enable syncing. In 2014, I should be able to start on one device and pick up on another if both platforms are supported and especially when they're part of the same OS.

While sound is very important in console gaming, I often feel like it doesn't matter as much in mobile gaming. In console gaming, players are more likely to have a surround sound setup, which actually helps in gameplay. I can't count how many times I've been able to get a kill or avoid being killed in Call of Duty because I could hear footsteps in my surround sound system or hear the direction of gunfire or explosions. A great score in a console game can also immensely add to the the experience, as in the BioShock and Batman series. I remember feeling scared and creeped out while playing BioShock- the sound was that good!

When I play mobile games, it's usually when I'm out and about, especially on the train or subway, or even waiting on line somewhere. I rarely sit down at home or at a friend's place and start playing a mobile game. So given the nature of how I play mobile games, I often just don't have my headphones in and therefore don't listen to the audio of the games. Not to mention, the audio on most mobile games just isn't that compelling.

Monument Valley's sound is not one of these games. I felt the sound effects and score really added to this game. The effects pop up when you manipulate objects in the environment, giving you aural feedback, which helps in solving the puzzles. The score enhances the mood as well.

As I mentioned before, the difficulty level is good. The beginning levels of the game are essentially tutorials and you'll likely complete the first level within 15 seconds. The levels get progressively more challenging and at some points I found the middle levels to be harder than the final levels. But that brings me to my main criticism of the game- it's too short! This might be the shortest campaign-based game I've ever played on any platform. I was finished in the course of about 2 days of casual gameplay. For a $4 game, that's just too short. It's not about the money, but rather that I was having so much fun and enjoying the game and would have loved to see it go on forever. Obviously, that's not possible, but 10 levels is just not long enough. I wouldn't have minded the option to purchase more levels for a fair price, but the base game still should have been longer.

That's what left the bitter taste in my mouth. I definitely recommend checking this game out and I think it's an enjoyable game. The graphics are stunning, the sound makes it even better, the gameplay is unique and challenging and it just feels like this game was made with love and care. But I can't help feeling disappointed that it was so short.

Brouhaha Over PC Version of Modern Warfare 2

So today on Digg, I came across this article about what's happening with the PC version of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2.  Essentially, Infinity Ward has announced that it's going to take away private servers for multiplayer and not allow user-created maps and mods.  

Personally this doesn't bother me all that much as I'm strictly a console gamer;  I gave up on PC gaming a long time ago.  While this really doesn't have any effect on me, I get where the PC gamers are coming from and I think Infinity Ward is making a big mistake.  What I think they are really doing is trying to get players to buy their own content, namely in the form of maps, instead of letting users create their own.  Additionally, the server connections will only be IW's in lieu of allowing private ones.

The server mistake is a really boneheaded move.  When Modern Warfare came out, Microsoft's servers went down during the holidays rendering the game unplayable from the multiplayer standpoint on the 360.  This created a huge fiasco and Microsoft responded by giving out free cards for Live, if I recall correctly.  They simply couldn't handle the load on their servers.  So I can't understand why Infinity Ward wouldn't allow private connections when Modern Wawrfare 2 is already anticipated to be the Game of the Year.  The preorders for the 360 alone are already listed at over 1.6 million copies.  In fact, it's being touted as being the "biggest entertainment launch of all time."  So it's all but certain that there will be outages in the multiplayer.  I can't understand why they wouldn't let matches be connected directly to each other for the inevitable case of their servers going down.

Taking mods away is also a boneheaded move.  While mods are not really important in the console scene, except for maps, they're hugely important in the PC scene.  Personally I have no problem with paying $10 for some extra maps if the levels look interesting enough.  But I think it's clear that the reason for IW doing this is just because they can.  The PC community thrives on user created mods.  In the PC version of games the mods aren't just maps, but also characters, weapons, costumes, physics engines and more.  They're really popular and can completely change the game.  In fact, several games, such as Counter Strike (Half-Life) and Team Fortress (Quake) have come back from near obscurity to be completely revived by modders.  These games are still being actively played today, despite their age.  So it's really just a slap in the face to some of Modern Warfare's biggest fans.  These are the people who are taking time to modify and improve the game, the people who are so passionate about the game that they take time to create things for it.

Then there's the issue of distributing it over Steam, but I'm not going to touch that for now.

There's even a petition going around to boycott the game.  As I said this doesnt affect me in any way and I absolutely cannot wait for the game.  But I do think IW is being a bit foolish in excluding a core group of devoted fans.