Monument Valley, the dizzyingly beautiful new iOS puzzle game by the British digital creative studio ustwo, has elicited ubiquitous comparisons to the “impossible reality” lithographs of the Dutch artist M.C. Escher. Drawing these parallels (sorry) is fair; many of the game’s isometric levels are constructed around orthogonal gravity sources, as are Escher’s famous prints. It also feels, to me, slightly insufficient.
Escher’s perspective experiments have always struck me as cold and not a little terrifying, mean and inescapable mazes prowled by weird figures out of Hieronymous Bosch. The Monument Valley experience is something else entirely. If you’re playing with headphones—as you should—the game’s warm tones and brushes of sitar and mandolin slow your pulse. Its color palette, rich pastels and dusty neutrals, soothes your eye. And the actual game, in which you guide with an invisible hand a tiny and silent girl through a welcoming dreamworld, moves at a gentle stroll. “Fun” isn’t the right word. “Relaxing” is closer, but it’s more actively pleasurable than that.
The closest comparison I can make to the feeling the game produces is ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), colloquially “head orgasm”, the pleasurable and elusive tingling phenomena some people experience when they hear whispering. It’s deeply felt yet fleeting, powerful yet slight, unique yet really, really hard to describe.
And it’s four dollars. For four dollars, one-fifteenth the cost of some shouty console bombardment, you can buy indescribable delight. Pretty good deal, right?