Year Walk Review
If you go down to the woods at midnight, be prepared for a big surprise thanks to Year Walk on iOS
Indie developer Simogo is best known for creating brightly coloured, cartoon-like platformers, such as Bumpy Road and Kosmo Spin. After picking up numerous awards for Beat Sneak Bandit last year, including Best Mobile Game at the Independent Mobile Games Festival, no one would blame the company for resting on its laurels and churning out more of the same. Instead, its latest venture is Year Walk: a first-person, narrative-driven gothic horror puzzle game.
Set in desolate, winter woodland at midnight, Year Walk is a spine-tingling mix of supernatural creatures and cryptic puzzles. The game takes its name and its plot from an ancient Swedish practice in which men would go on a late night wander through the woods to obtain prophecies for the year ahead. The spiritual journey was considered highly dangerous because the year walker, as they were known, starved themselves of food and water, braced icy conditions and – so legend would have it – encountered strange, magical beings that could drive a man insane if they didn’t kill him. While this review will give little details of the actual story of Year Walk away, you play the part of a character who goes year walking to discover if his true love will marry someone else.
Many ghoulish creatures from Scandinavian folklore appear, such as the skeletal Night Raven who eats people that are out after dark. However, while they might jump out and give you a fright or be responsible for some particularly gruesome act, such as turning a river into blood, they are generally easily defeated through repeated tapping on a weak spot. While this lack of actual peril is slightly disappointing, the strange creatures are more of a payoff for solving the puzzles, driving the plot forward.
Puzzles take the form of working out hidden codes to open secret doors, as well as tapping on objects to see if they do anything. In one such puzzle, you have to search the forest for the ghosts of murdered children. You know they are nearby when you find pools of blood, however you have to touch and slide objects to find them, even at one point turning your screen upside down to shake one out of a tree. Fans of the musical Beat Sneak Bandit will be happy to know that there is also a task that involves finding your way round a maze of disembodied singing voices, trying to follow the most in tune warbler.
Year Walk only contains around 10 actual puzzles to complete, but set in the open world of the forest, in which you can wander freely, you encounter many vital clues, such as a wooden doll in a shed or an ancient gravestone, out of sequence. This adds an extra level of difficulty to already often quite convoluted puzzles, as you try to remember where you might have seen things before and are never certain which elements refer to the particular puzzle you’re trying to solve.
To aid you in your vision quest, Simogo has also released the free Year Walk Companion app to go with the game. Written by a folklore expert and ethnologist named Theodor Almsten, it makes for a fascinating read in itself, documenting the legends of many of the creatures you encounter through the game. However, it also includes some veiled hints to how you solve many of the puzzles. For this reason, it is recommended you play Year Walk on the big screen, with the Companion as a readily available guide on your iPhone, so you don’t have to keep exiting the game to look up information.
In terms of longevity, once you’ve completed Year Walk much of the surprise and excitement is gone, and solving the puzzles again seems arbitrary. However, without wanting to spoil the ending, there is a mysterious epilogue to the game that is fiendishly difficult, but extremely compelling and will certainly keep you hooked long after the initial game is complete.
The sound and visuals deserve special mention for building an atmosphere to the whole proceedings. At the beginning of the game, Year Walk is made up of black-and-white cinematography and there is little noise beyond the crushing of snow underfoot. But as you get deeper into the game, colour – mostly the scarlet red of blood – seeps in and a score is introduced, complete with eerie choral singing, to ramp up the tension and complete the atmosphere.
Part ghost story, part puzzle game, totally immersive. A highly original game.
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