Sweden might have weird traditions… such as children dancing like frogs around a phallic symbol fertilizing Mother Nature to celebrate summer. But it used to be much weirder, much much weirder.
Simogo created the superb casual car endless runner Bumpy Road, and the highly rated unique rhythm platformer Beat Sneak Bandit. Their new endeavour Year Walk is as far from those titles as anything can ever be. Having spent hours in this surreal game I have to say that it is one of the most unnerving experiences I have had on a touch screen. And it is all about the experience, much like in Myst you get to draw much of the story in your own mind.
At times I feel as confused, as when I watched Twin Peaks in my youth. Women talking to logs, agents talking to secretaries we never get to see and strange lodges in the woods. Year Walk is highly influenced by myths, traditions and pagan antics found in Scandinavia. You wouldn’t know this though if you only play the game. This is the first time you have to rely on a companion app to get the background to the characters, symbols and relationships in the game. I spent an evening with only the game, and got seriously frustrated at the lack of information it gives. Reading the texts found in the companion app cleared up quite a lot of my confusion. It enabled me to start connecting the dots, and getting a story out of it all. This is a highly personal experience though, and I am certain that someone growing up in the US, or UK will have a completely different take on it. The team at Simogo specifically asked us not to give away any spoilers in our review of Year Walk. The fact is that I can’t, as my interpretations aren’t universal.
The gameplay is unique, as you walk in a layered world. You can scroll the scenes horizontally, and occasionally a small white arrow will indicate that you can go forwards, or backwards. This either brings you to another layer, a puzzle or an indoor location. Puzzles are hard to grasp, and even simple causality is off the table. Finding what to do in what order is a matter of trial, and error combined with the fragments of coherence you get. The idea is that solving the puzzles should be a collaborative effort on forums. I found this to be a brilliant, and highly engaging concept. Too bad that I am one of the few with the game this early, and can’t take advantage of how other players experience the game, and solve the puzzles.
The minimal presentation helps set a feeling of loneliness, mystery and wonder. Sounds are scarce, but once they appear I really listen. I hear, I follow, I walk. This is the first game I have encountered completely lacking user interface, pause menu and proper start screen. This further enhances the experience.
Year Walk isn’t for everyone, as it is far from a casual experience and it takes a lot of effort from the player to get into it. For those who manage to immerse themselves completely this is one of the greatest games ever on iOS. For those who don’t it is a waste of time, and money. With this in mind I really hope you will Walk the Year with me, and together we might be able to figure it out.
The hardest game ever to rate, as it can be everywhere from one to five stars depending on your experience.