Year Walk is a 2013 game from Simogo, which deals with the lost Swedish tradition of Årsgång, or ‘year walking’, where you venture out into the night in search of a glimpse of the future. The walk traditionally took place at midwinter and ended in a graveyard, which gives you the first hint that this game is going to deal with some fairly dark themes.
The game itself looks beautiful, with a minimalism that helps it to achieve a stark, almost monochrome atmosphere. Although it's beautiful, it's bleak. When playing, I almost expected to feel the breath misting out in front of my face. The two-dimensional art looks like a pop-up book, which is the perfect backdrop for a story that explores folklore. Although, this is the darker side of the country’s mythology, the kind that twists a dark history of infanticide into rumours of spirits of drowned children wandering in the night. Suitably, this is a game that will make you feel uneasy throughout, and punctuate that unease with more than one jump scare.
"…he would leave his dark room at the very stroke of midnight – this would be his last chance to cancel the Year Walk.
Once he ventured out there was no turning back." – Year Walk Companion, on the history of the tradition
The setting itself almost feels like part of the puzzle sometimes. It’s easy to get lost in the forests of Year Walk, swiping between screen after screen of grey trees and white snow and little else. Usually in a game that would be frustrating, but in this case it works in the game’s favour, highlighting your sense of isolation in the snowbound and silent woods, and leaving you feeling as lost as your character.
The puzzles, once you find them, aren’t always that complex, although they do make excellent use of the touchscreen controls. You’ll have to swipe, rotate, drag and make full use of the mechanics of your tablet or phone in order to solve the puzzles. One of the main challenges in solving the puzzles comes from how far apart the key and the answer to a specific puzzle may be. You often have to backtrack through the woods, trying to recall exactly where you had seen that one eldritch rune carved onto that one birch tree out of the hundreds surrounding you.
The game does have one challenging music-based puzzle where, although I understood what I had to do, I didn’t have the perfect pitch needed to complete it. Luckily, this puzzle is one that you can chance your way through eventually (and actually, there’s a couple of puzzles where that’s the case, if you want to cheat yourself through the game).
"It was very hard to predict whether she would help or harm, since she played by rules known only to her"
– Year Walk Companion, on The Huldra
Year Walk comes with a companion guide, which offers extra information on the creatures that you’ll encounter during your journey, and the folklore that birthed them. The companion is also needed to unlock the extra postgame content that the game has to offer. After completion, the game leaves you with one tantalising option: Walk Again? It might be that my expectations were too high, but I was already imagining the playthrough of the next game, how different choices could be made, how puzzles could be re-worked and you could walk through armed with the knowledge already gained from your previous Walk.
It isn’t like that.
The text in the companion guide gives one final, disappointingly easy, riddle solution. I was expecting that for any player invested enough to have solved the whole game, the final hurdle should have been made far less easy to clear. Players should be made to work if they want to seek any form of closure to this game.
Overall, Year Walk is a haunting game; both in the fact that the storyline itself features many creatures escaped from the pages of folklore, and that this game will stay with you for a long time after you finish it.It is a brief game and, although I wished that there was more content to the epilogue, that only really says good things about it. I wish I could have spent more exploring the forests of Year Walk.
Year Walk is available on iOS, Steam and the Wii U.
£2.99 on the app store and £4.79 on Steam.