Year Walk is a chilling tale of love and horror set upon the dark, quiet backdrop of a snowy Swedish wood. A dramatic departure from their other efforts on iOS (Beat Sneak Bandit being the most notable), Simogo has created a piece of brooding, puzzling, dark gameplay that leads the player into the unknown and unfamiliar.
A brief experience, clocking in around two hours depending on your puzzling abilities, this tale excels in efficient design even in its slower moments. I found myself enthralled with the game during my playthrough in a way I have never experienced in a mobile or handheld title before, and was profoundly affected by the transcendent, astonishing conclusion.
Fair disclosure: I am not a fan of mobile games. The 5-minute time-killers such as Angry Birds don’t do enough to engage my attention. Likewise, any game designed to be played for longer than it takes to make it to the front of the line at the bank is in my estimation better experienced on a console or PC. With rare exceptions, most games on iOS or other mobile devices don’t take advantage of what makes the platform interesting in a way that I find compelling.
Year Walk is the exception. It exceeds the only other title I would unconditionally recommend on the platform, Superbrothers: Swords & Sworcery, as the exemplar of what can make an iOS games so captivating. Best experienced late at night, on an iPad, with a headphones on, and a glass of whiskey at your side, Year Walk understands the medium in a way most titles do not.
The game is primarily a first-person puzzler. Spurned by the apple of your eye, the player sets off on the ancient Swedish ritual of the ‘year walk’, a type of vision quest, in an attempt to see the future. The player swipes through screens of a dark, snow-covered Scandanavian forest, seeking clues to a limited number of puzzles and the way forward. The puzzles themselves are challenging without being arcane, although most players will want to grab a pen and paper to take notes.
There is a sense of yearning garnered by the game throughout the experience. When not grasping for clues wrapped in Swedish mythology to solve the puzzle at hand, wandering the snowy woods creates a sensation of longing and aimlessness that works to great effect. The attention to audio design here is of particular note, as the sparse soundtrack lets each crunch of snow underfoot sink in all the more.
Brief visions of horror are severely impactful to their unexpectedness that left me feeling haunted. As the player continues, it becomes clear that we are no longer navigating areas and solving puzzles, but trying to unlock more hidden truths nested within the game. In this manner, the game takes cues from the best Swedish cinema in leaving the player feeling disconcerted and unsettled.
In a final stroke of genius, the game engages the player with the game in a way that breaks traditional rules (and is entirely contingent on the companion app, which is free to download). In the climatic sequence, Year Walk displays elegance and an inherent understanding of how we interact with these devices, and does so in a way that brings the game’s narrative to a sublime and disconcerting closure.