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Review: Monument Valley's Forgotten Shores expansion is a triumph

When it comes to gaming, in-app purchases are a tricky thing. Some games use Apple's mechanism to wrest more cash out of you to complete levels faster; others enrich the game experience with new costumes and player characters; others still use the in-app purchase to build off the original game.

It's that last option that has come to Monument Valley (opens in new tab), ustwo's brilliantly-constructed architectural puzzler. The Escher-homaging app first appeared on the iOS App Store in April, winning a number of awards shortly thereafter — including Apple's own prestigious Design Award at the 2014 Worldwide Developers Conference.

Monument Valley was one of my own favorite iOS games to play back in April, and I've been eagerly awaiting its expansion ever since I heard rumors of its existence a few months back. Was it worth the wait and the $2 purchase? Oh, architectural gods, yes.

Monument Valley: the appendices

The original Monument Valley told a twisting, slightly eerie tale of a forgetful princess winding her way through her intricately-built and strangely twisted lands, now filled with odd black flightless birds. I won't spoil the ending of the original ten-level game here for those who haven't yet completed it — though seriously, stop reading this and go play it now if you haven't.

In contrast, Monument Valley: Forgotten Shores focuses more on feelings than it does narrative — it's designed to live within the world already constructed by the original game rather than expound further with prequel or sequel storytelling. As a result, each of the seven appendices can be played in any order, though you can't reach the expansion's final level without completing them all. (There's even an appearance from everyone's favorite mystic ghost halfway through the extra levels that playfully hints at as much.)

The game's new levels may not build their own story, but that doesn't mean they're merely outtakes or reused material. It's very clear that these appendices sport just as much craft, level-building, and wonky physics as their predecessors, if not more. There are new bizarre feats of architectural wonder; strange interactions with thieving crows; and even a heartbreaking moment or two. (Without giving away too much, the stage in question struck me much like the later levels of Thomas Was Alone.)

There are those that are protesting ustwo's $2 charge for this expansion — that think anything new in the Monument Valley universe should be theirs for free. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, I suppose, but here's mine: Those people are fools.

Building a great game is monumentally difficult. Expanding it without destroying the magic of the original is even harder. Given the hours of work that went into this game and the delight it brought me upon playing, I would have paid $20 for Monument Valley and its expansions — I feel stupendously lucky that I can get the whole thing for $6.

I can't wait to go back and play this expansion again — my first crack at it took me a few leisurely hours of spinning and puzzle-solving — but in the meantime, you should go check it out.

Serenity was formerly the Managing Editor at iMore, and now works for Apple. She's been talking, writing about, and tinkering with Apple products since she was old enough to double-click. In her spare time, she sketches, sings, and in her secret superhero life, plays roller derby. Follow her on Twitter @settern.

23 Comments
  • We all understand their hard work to make new levels, but they should have mentioned that the $3.99 is only for 10 levels and not just telling us more levels are coming soon. And if the argument is "you get what you pay for" then I would expect them to ask for money to fix bugs ? Since it's also hard work from them to fix the bugs. Great game and great design but bad marketing.
  • Of course you are entitled to your opinion... But seriously, you take issue with the fact that they didn’t tell you that additional/future content wasn't included in the original price of the game!? Jeez...
  • My issue was when I bought the game at the first time, it was saying 10 levels and more are coming. They should state that they will charge for extra levels but leaving it ambiguous like that was really bad way of marketing and kinda fooling the customers. I already got my refund from apple and they accepted my complaint. Again, the money is not my issue, but the way they did it.
  • Ok I get the idea, it's clearer now...
  • I would also have gladly paid more for this wonderful artistic experience from a small hardworking team. Personally, I'm more appalled with all the "games for whales" out there with questionable $99 in-app purchases for in-game currencies that simply allow you to keep playing the same game or to unlock content faster. Sent from the iMore App
  • Right! You could actually spend THOUSANDS of dollars on some of these games. Who the hell pays that kind of money for a game. ANY game.
  • Couldn't agree more. This is the way in-app purchases should work. When I buy a game, I expect to buy it as is, for the most part. I don't think spending a couple bucks on a game entitles me to a ton of extra stuff down the line, so IAP for permanent, durable things like new levels and content are fine. Constantly being hounded to buy expendable stuff like in-game currency or power-ups is infuriating, though.
  • Call me a fool if you wish. I was one of those who said that I would not be paying. While I understand your view on this and agree with it for the most part, there is also something to be said for not constantly milking the customer. I bought the game originally, I believe on your first review of it several months ago. I read the review, and jumped right over to the app store and bought it. I played it, I liked it, I left them a good review on the app store. Where I have issues is so now so what is that every few months there would be another $2 and then another, and then another. Im guessing that they released what they had in order to make money so they could develop more levels. I get that. Obviously they did make enough and good for them. We appreciate the work. The article you guys posted earlier said that the new levels were IAP which was incorrect. I probably would have paid $4.99 or whatever because I wanted the game. What I don't want is to constantly be asked for money for a few minutes more play. As I said earlier, ROVIO is learning this lesson as people are dropping by the millions. Their games have evolved into adverts with a few minutes of gaming thrown in. With monument valley, I didn't even expect any new levels. I thought it was done and I was ok with that. I wish game makers would just charge me $10 or $20 up front and I will only be pleasantly surprised when new levels show up. That was one of the good things Rovio had going. You bought the game and then new levels would show up and it was like, "wow, new levels, cool" Now it makes games that are FREE but unplayable without constant purchases. Thats annoying. It's only when you keep throwing up that paywall that it gets annoying. All I am saying is that I would rather pay MORE up front than keep meeting smacked in the face with more demands for money.
  • See, I totally agree with where you're coming from—I too would rather pay $10 for a game than download it for free and pay $1 for each level. With MV, I think the creators truly didn't think they'd come back to the universe so soon, if at all—but users were clamoring for more puzzles, so the MV team sunk the time into building them (and charged appropriately). I imagine if the team had originally planned for more levels to appear, they might have structured their pricing differently, but the original MV was a complete game — this expansion is just that, more puzzles set in the world for people who wanted more. Not so much "you'll never finish the game and its story unless you pony up."
  • Yep: I thought it was done. I am glad that they did well. They now also know that people like the game and I could see it going on for a while. I hope they read these comments. They could add another IAP for lifetime updates. I'd be happy to buy that one. And when they come out with "Death Valley" The Sequel, I'll buy that one too. But please, give me an option for all at once.
  • I take your point re Rovio. But honestly, for MV, I'd be happy to pay for new chapters every few months. If they could release them that quick, that is! I think this is a fair way to handle it, and it's acceptable middle-ground for IAPs. I see this purchase as half the cost of my morning coffee, and that's over in 10 mins. Same goes for the recent IAP in Hitman GO. I'd be happy to keep paying every few months. I can choose to stop if/when I get bored. Sent from the iMore App
  • I only play games with family and friends, "live and in person," but I don't understand all the complaining about a few bucks for a game app (presumably you have lots of time on your hands to play video games, so you have money to burn, too, right?!). Today, Daring Fireball calls all the complainers giving it one-star reviews "cheapskate morons."
  • Love the game and I aloud be happy to pay for this again. Sent from the iMore App
  • Thanks for the review Serenity - it's convinced me to go get it. Strikes me that 10 levels is a reasonable amount to give away for the price being asked, and it allows the gamer to really know whether it is worth paying for the extension. Sent from the iMore App
  • I paid for the original release and was and is happy to pay the small price to pay for updates like these. I rather pay the same prices wether regular or add-on for things like try before you buy to remove ads than freemium that currently propagates the App stores now. Sent from the iMore App
  • When I read about all the 1-star review nonsense, I immediately purchased this game and the additional content.
  • It's a fantastic piece of entertainment, I was awe struck when the original appeared in April. Now the extra levels are here its even better.
    I was quite happy to pay for the original, paying 2/3rds the original price for 80% more game is a bargain.
  • This is a unique game and I wish it would never end. The small extra price for new levels seems reasonable to me.
    The work that has gone into it is nothing short of spectacular and it's worth a lot more than the price they are charging. Sent from the iMore App
  • Started playing through the extra levels with my young daughter last night, at her pace. It's great, and totally worth the price of admission, even just to see the joy on her face. Sent from the iMore App
  • I *LOVE* this game! I just started Forgotten Shores last night; and, it is just as beautiful as the original. Congrats to ustwo for the great appendix.
  • It's undeniable that the new levels of this game took many hours of hard work. The developers deserve to be paid for this hard work, just like any of us. Always find it funny how people don't hesitate to spend $300 for an iPhone, yet throw a hissy fit when asked to pay $2 for someone's hard work.
  • My lord. People can defend their position all they want. It's two dollars. TWO.DOLLARS. And don't say it's about the principle of the matter. I think a lot of people are just straight-up cheap.
  • People think nothing of buying new episodes of their favorite TV shows, but expect games to be cheap or free. You get what you pay for.