Jan 30, 2012

Pro's and Con's Review: Monospace

Format: iOS
Developer: Nonverbal
Publisher: Nonverbal

Monospace is an oldie but a goodie, a game close to my heart as it was one of the first iOS games to really suck me in with it's cleaver use of 3D, stark visual style and brain burning puzzles.

I love this game so much that I figured, in spite of its age, I would give it the ol' Pro's and Con's treatment, having a look at its flaws and merits as a professional and as a consumer. Read on for the review.

Pro's take:
The core concept of Monospace revolves around solving sort of sliding block puzzles within a cube that require you to flatten the view from one of the 6 orthogonal directions. This has the effect of reducing the puzzle to a square. The rub is that the square will be different depending on which face of the cube you are looking at when you flatten the view. This forces you to visualize the puzzle in a cool new way that isn't inherently obvious, not unlike the way Valve's masterpiece forced you to learn to "Think with Portals".

Another cool aspect of the game's design is how it handles level progression. Like many games that have come before or after it, Monospace greets you with a 4x4 grid of numbered squares representing the games levels. This acts as your level selection menu. Unlike traditional linear progression though, completing a level won't simply unlock the next level but also the one below it in the grid. So, beating level 1 gives you access to, not only, level 2 but also level 5. The net effect is that you usually have around 3 or 4 unlocked levels available to play, so if you're stuck on a particular puzzle, you can always attempt a different one and come back to the one that's got you stumped.

I've got to give this game a black mark for forcing me to replay levels over and over though. This is as much my fault as the game's as I have a terrible memory and would repeat the same mistakes over and over when retrying levels. I would have preferred the ability to undo moves rather than having to restart levels altogether as it would have allowed me to simply back up to the point where I think things went wrong rather than restart and forget where I screwed up.

Monospace is a poster child for elegant minimalism. Everything from the beautiful yet totally simplistic visuals to the simple yet deep game play itself, Monospace knows what it wants to be and doesn't try to be anything else.

Con's take:
What kept me coming back to Monospace time and time again is how the puzzles felt so damn good to complete. There's something about a well crafted, mind bending puzzle that makes you feel like a total genius for solving it, even when you know someone created it and its solution. The puzzles in Monospace gave me this feeling time and time again.

Something I wasn't expecting though was the variety. Like I mentioned above, Monospace is a minimal and stream lined design, so much so that I assumed I had seen all the game had to offer by the time I completed the beginner rank levels. Turns out the game introduces new small twists throughout that reinvigorate you as they force you to shift your thinking to accommodate these new elements and the puzzle possibilities they open. These extra elements are also, each, very simple in their own right but combine to great effect.

The controls are a mixed bag though. On the one hand, the control scheme is super simple, intuitive and works great, but on the other hand, I've had them glitch out from time to time, sometimes even resulting in illegal moves that worked in my favour. I haven't picked up the game since its last update so this kind of control bug might have since been stamped out.

So, you like puzzles? You like solving them and feeling like a genius? Then I urge you to pick up Monospace. Many, MANY games have come to the App Store since, but I haven't come across one that has given me that same sense of accomplishment yet.

Image from Nonverbal

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