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.

Making a case for cases

So, yes, this is my first post in quite some time. Life has caught up with me and I simply haven't been as interested in blogging as much as I thought I would be. However, I'm going to attempt to change that. I'm not pretending that I'm going to blog every day, or every week, or even every month and that's OK. I'll blog when I'm damn well ready!

In any "case," I was so excited by something that I feel selfish keeping it all to myself. As you'll see from my last post, I was thinking about picking up the iPhone 4S, and well, I did- white, 32GB, AT&T. It's great, though not perfect and I probably won't make a dedicated post about it since it's pretty much old news at this point. *NOTE* This is going to be a long post so, ye been warned!

Since I got the 4S, I've kept it naked, which is pretty much what I've done with most of my iPhones. I've had a couple cases here and there on earlier models, but never seem to keep them on for very long. Part of it is my resistance to cover up the natural beauty of the iPhone. I feel the design, especially in this generation, is exceptional and it just feels wrong to cover up something so nice. I will wholeheartedly admit that I buy many things because of their design and aesthetics and so I'm very hesitant to cover up any of my products for the most part.

I have dropped the 4S once, which put a couple of small chips/nicks into it but nothing really major. But I will say that the 4S, with its glass back, has this feeling of slipperiness and that it could fly out of my hand at any moment. After 10-11 months of ownership, I decided to start looking for a case. 

I'm not sure if there's any singular catalyst, but over the last year or so, I've decided to become more of a minimalist and am attempting to pare down the things I own such that I just have the essentials. Instead of owning a lot of things and stuff, I'd rather buy a few good, reliable things. So I'm now more interested in spending a little more money on quality products and just needing one or two than buying a whole bunch of things that will just break down or need to be replaced.

In pursuit of my minimalist lifestyle, I've wanted to try and slim down what I carry in my pockets on a daily basis. I've removed much of the contents of my wallet so that I'm only carrying just what I need. I've removed several items from my keychain as well. With that goal in mind, I set out to find a slim iPhone case that could actually double as a wallet so that I could potentially carry even fewer things in my pockets.

iLid MK-1

I was looking for a traditional case form-factor that would provide some protection and have storage on the back for a few cards and cash. I looked at several models before deciding on the iLid MK-1 wallet case. There were just so many negatives with the other cases I looked at, which ranged from them being bulky, ugly, not offering protection, not having enough storage, unusual card-loading mechanisms, or just poor design. The iLid looked like the perfect solution for what I wanted. It had a modicum of protection, storage for a few cards and a money clip, extra storage for a key or memory card, great design, and is allegedly, the "world's thinnest iPhone wallet." As a bonus, you can open the lid and use it as a kickstand. It's made by a company that was successfully funded via Kickstarter, so I should have tempered my expectations somewhat, but let's just say, I was sorely disappointed.

iLid Case (Note the positioning of the cash)

Receiving the case as a birthday gift, I made sure to carefully inspect it before taking into the wild. While the packing was lovely, that's about the only good thing about it. First, the images that were used in the campaign, on their website, and the box are flat out lies. They've since changed their images, but in the initial images, they made it appear that you could simply fold cash bills in half and slip them into the money clip built into the lid. It turns out, this is simply a Photoshopped image. There was just no way you could physically fit cash bills in there in that manner. This means that you'd have to fold and reposition your cash which means you're not going to be able to get much in there.

Second, I simply couldn't keep all of my cards in there, even without using the cash. Now this isn't totally their fault, as I was trying to fit slightly more than what they recommended, but not by much. My slimmed down card loadout consists of one credit card, one ATM card, my ID and a NYC Metrocard. Anyone who has familiarity with Metrocards knows just how thin they are to the point where they basically take up no space at all. I'm pretty much carrying only 3 cards, which really isn't much. I suppose I could have a combined credit/ATM card, but that's not really part of my financial setup and is another post for another day. In any case, if you carry more than 2 cards, which is probably most people, this case isn't a good choice.

Lastly, and most surprisingly, I discovered that the hole that's been cut out for the iPhone's camera is so poorly designed that you cannot take a photo using the flash without your picture being blurred out by the case. This is really just insult to injury. Yeah, sure, I guess I could just take photos without the flash or take the phone out of the case when I need the flash, but c'mon, man! This was hugely disappointing and so I contacted the manufacturer with my list of complaints and they offered a full refund, no questions asked, so kudos to them for that.

But in the end, I was now left without a case and it doesn't look like anyone has adequately solved this issue in a way that works for me personally. I decided that I'd just get a normal case and look for a slim wallet later on. I've got my eyes on the Slim by Suprgood, but unfortunately, I missed the Kickstarter campaign for them and they aren't taking regular orders yet.

Urban Armor Gear Navigator case

Anywho, I stumbled upon a gorgeous looking case by Urban Armor Gear, being sold via They come in a wide variety of colors and I went with white since I went with the white iPhone. With refund in hand, my gift-giver purchased this instead. (An aside- I love Fab, but their shipping is terribly slow. I know they're working on it and are investing in improving shipping times, but just keep this in mind. I've ordered a few things from them and the shipping is painfully slow. Then again, everything seems slow compared to 2-day shipping via Amazon Prime.)

When it arrived, I couldn't await to tear it open and I was not disappointed with what I found. The Navigator is just incredible to look at. It has this military, tactical design that just screams, "Look at me!" It looks like a custom molded gun case that you might keep an M4 or AR-15 stored in. It's made of a hard plastic that's easy to grip and feels very solid. There are these tiny, faux screw holes that look like the proprietary screws that Apple put on the bottom of the 4S. The company's UAG logo is prominently displayed on the back and there's a large cutout for the iPhone's camera.

One subtle detail that has quickly become a favorite of mine is the lip that runs along the front and back of the case. It raises the case up and allows you to put your iPhone down but not actually have the screen or the back of the case touch the surface it's on. It's just a simple, little thing but alleviates worry about damaging the phone or the case. No, it's not going to protect a direct impact to the screen, but you don't have to worry when you put your phone face down. And that's something I find myself doing often because I just love looking at the case.

The inside has a textured coating and a structure that gives the impression that the phone is secure from shocks and drops, not that I plan to deliberately test this out. But, I feel confident that the phone is going to be well protected. The top and the bottom of the case are somewhat flexible and the bottom is the only place where I worry about longevity since it's not reinforced. I could see it potentially snapping with lots of pressure or from constantly taking the case on and off.

That leads me to another point- I had a bit of difficulty removing the phone from the case. The one time I did it, the black plastic ring that goes in the housing for the camera hole popped out when I finally removed the phone from the case. I was able to easily snap it back in, but you should note that this case isn't really suited for putting on and off very often. It's best to leave it on all the time, which is what I'm doing, and fortunately, I don't really have any reason to take it off. 

The top button is really great and I've had no trouble pushing it and it gives a very satisfactory feeling when you use it. The volume buttons on the side are also easy to push, but they are very close together, separated only by a thin piece of rubber and so it can be tricky to make sure that you're pushing the one you really want. The volume/ringer switch is uncovered and is relatively easy to push but could be tricky if you have gloves on.

The headphone jack has ample space to fit a variety of headphone connectors. The bottom leaves the speakers and the 30-pin connector open for use. What I really like about this is that there's no flap that can get in the way when you're trying to charge or dock your phone. I keep my phone docked every night next to my bed, so for me, this is huge.

As I mentioned before, the camera hole is large enough for the lens and the flash and I've had zero problems taking flash photos unlike with the iLid.

Bundled with the case is a screen protector that you're supposed to stick on. Being clumsy, I ended up with an air bubble covering the screen so I had to peel it off. The problem with these things is that they're generally only good for one application so I had to toss it. I don't think it was going to give me much protection anyway, so no big deal. They also included a little cloth to wipe the screen, a nice touch.

There are other cases out there that offer more protection and this isn't one of those, but I feel confident that for everyday use, this case will offer adequate protection and style. I will definitely be looking into picking up another UAG case if and when I upgrade to an iPhone 5 or whatever comes next. 

OK, this has been long enough, so ciao!