Spoiler alert: If you haven’t finished this gorgeous game yet, you may want to stop reading here to avoid seeing screenshots from different levels.
Monument Valley fans collectively rejoiced when the sequel to this game was announced at WWDC a few weeks back. A darling of the design world, ustwo’s Monument Valley acts as the prime example of mobile gaming done beautifully.
While the reasons why this game is adored is obvious from the perfect color combinations and smooth transitions to the jaw-droppingly stunning levels, there are many small but significant details that make Monument Valley 2 so wonderful to play.
Focus through elegantly limiting choices
While many mobile games have their starting screens populated with a start button, settings, game center, and other options, Monument Valley 2 — through its UI — is simply telling the user to go forth and embark on this journey. Features such as credits, contacts, and settings are tucked away in the small circle in the top left. Easy to find, yet not distracting either. While a limited set of choices are good, when it comes to simply getting a user to initiate game play, this is a very simple and thoughtful way of prompting users to get started.
Subtle prompts and perceived learning
At the end of each level in Monument Valley 2, players are encouraged to create a “mandala” by connecting the stars and coming up with a symbol. When I first got to this screen, I didn’t know quite what to do. However, as the star started getting brighter and as faded diamonds started to form around the star, I tapped it and from there, figured out that I needed to connect the stars to form a symbol.
ustwo could have made this easy on themselves and obvious for players by adding a prompt or notification with instructions. Instead, they took the harder but more rewarding route and thought of a way where this interaction could give players not only a sense of control, but also give them a rush of endorphins when they figure this interaction out on their own — with the star serving as a gentle and subtle prompt.
This is just one of the many ways ustwo embeds delight into their game. While the end of the level could have been completely overlooked, ustwo made the most of it and turned it into a fun experience for players.
Skill-building through familiar patterns
Similar to providing subtle prompts when learning something new, building upon familiar game patterns is also a seamless way of teaching players new skills without having to provide any instructions. The game eases into this by reviewing some of the basic interactions from Monument Valley 1 in the first few levels. Then, as the story progresses, new mechanics are introduced. Players are encouraged to figure how these mechanics work simply by experimentation. At this point in the game, there are minimal instructions — which makes it feel like even though you’re on a journey with Ro and her child, you’re also embarking on a journey of your own, building new skills and figuring out ambiguity.
Motivating continued play through progress cues
While progress could have been measured through loading bars or devoted feature, Monument Valley 2 shows progress through doors. Yes, these doors play a big part in level design. But they also serve as milestones, keeping users engaged as they feel that they get closer and closer to finishing a level.
Hitting ’em in the feels
One difference between Monument Valley 1 and Monument Valley 2 that I distinctly remember is how much more emotional I felt about the game this time around. While I felt awestruck for the majority of the time I played Monument Valley 1, with Monument Valley 2, I felt like I was on an emotional rollercoaster — devastated to see Ro and her child split up time after time, then relieved when they end up coming together again.
ustwo accomplishes much of this through the power of nonverbals which can have up to 93% more impact than spoken word. Shoulders sagging when they separate, a quick turn of the head in desperation to seek each other out. Even without facial expressions and dialogue, the way these characters move and interact through the game is powerful enough to convey these emotions.
When it comes to the balance of form, function, and aesthetics in design, Monument Valley 2 is both an inspirational product and an aspirational product for designers alike.