When I was a kid, I was lucky enough to grow up across the street from a big swath of woods. On more than one occasion while playing Simogo's Year Walk, I felt like I was that kid again, slowly exploring a new section of forest, not knowing what I would find next -- excited and unsettled at the same time. Even though my experiences are unique to me, Year Walk is so atmospheric and well done, I feel like anyone who plays it would have to feel the same way.
Or someone's experiences could be completely different. That's what is special about this game. Year Walk is like an old-school Aesop Fable. It's a storybook that's unafraid to show you some of the darkness that's in the world. Only this is a storybook that you get to play. It's also one that leaves plenty of open spaces for your mind to fill in the gaps.
When you come across something disturbing in Year Walk, there's nothing propelling you forward except for your own desire to continue exploring. The longer the pause you take, the more wild your imagination can run, racing all over the place while it's surrounded by a sense of foreboding brought on by the silence of snowflakes hitting the ground and the crunch of your steps in the snow.
The story in Year Walk is one that unfolds gradually. To go into too much detail would be doing it a disservice. Since it's a tale wrapped in the darkness of ancient Swedish lore, the details you are working with are what you'd hope to find. There's plenty of death, rituals and mystery to be found. As you can tell from the pictures and the trailers, Year Walk is set in a bleak forest in the dead of winter. For any Game of Thrones fans out there, it feels like you're north of The Wall.
Your perspective in the game is first-person, but don't get me wrong ... this is about as far from a first-person shooter as it gets. In the grand tradition of adventure classics like Myst and Riven, the gameplay in Year Walk is largely 2D. Well, sorta. By swiping sideways across the screen, you will move along a layer of the game world, eventually making one big loop around after you've swiped enough.
But there are certain areas where you can swipe up or down to step forward in the game world -- perhaps to head down a dark path, layer by layer, for as long as you can take it or until you come across a new discovery. In this way it truly does feel like you're playing an interactive Aesop Fable, swiping your way through the game world, left and right, in and out, like turning pages in a magical book.
Standing in a bit of contrast to the rest of the game, the puzzles in Year Walk aren't too devious. If you have played any adventure games in the past, you're likely to already have a bit of built-in puzzle muscle memory that will help you make the connections needed to proceed. Try this item here, use that pattern there.
Even though there's never really a clear sense of where you are in the game, which I found to be a really cool design choice, since it added to the effect of truly being lost in the woods, items and solutions have a way of getting solved by virtue of how frequent they pop up in your path. If you're meant to head in a certain direction, then chances are you'll be presented with the necessary objects often enough for you to find the right connection between them.
I would highly recommend getting the Year Walk Companion app for the game. It's a free add-on that will provide plenty more context and information about the ancient Swedish lore that Year Walk is filled with. Plus it literally is a companion. I know it sounds silly, but I found it kind of comforting to be able to switch over to the app when the game started to feel a little claustrophobic.
And I know what you're thinking by now. This is an iOS game. How could it possibly be that unsettling? Well, it's all about context. If you decide to, let's say, play this game on a bus, chances are you're going to have a much different experience. But if you decide to play it with the lights out and headphones on, you'll see where I'm coming from.
While Year Walk is certainly not a game made for everyone, it's hard not to recommend this for everyone. Simogo has turned in something special here. Year Walk is not just a great gaming experience on iOS, it's a beautiful piece of art.