To me, the best games are the ones that pluck me out of reality and into a computer-generated alternate universe. I have a very active imagination, and I find almost nothing more fun than escapism, if only for a short 20-minute play session.
Before playing Year Walk, I never believed this sort of experience could happen by playing an iOS game. Heck, I’ve never even considered my phone a legitimate gaming device, as most games are either too lite for my tastes (PvZ was a super fun time waster, and social games are just adequate time wasters), or they’re full-featured games that have controls my clunky fingers can’t navigate (I need real buttons).
However, Year Walk showed me that there is hope.
Despite my previous misadventures with mobile gaming, the premise of the game was too hard to pass up. In the game, you play the role of 19th-century, everyday-kinda Swedish guy. Nothing leads you to believe he’s anything more than young adult who plans to take a “year walk” to get a glimpse into his future. This is an actual ancient custom called Arsgang that, for all I can tell, is little known to cultures outside the Scandinavian region.
The game describes a Year Walk as a type of vision quest. While I don’t want to spoil the purity of the game for future players, I’ll just add that most year walkers encountered supernatural creatures on their quests. If that’s the kinda thing that excites or frightens you, you can start either worrying or getting excited now.
You’ll need a few things to master Year Walk, including: a sense of direction, a strong stomach, puzzle-solving skills, a love for or interest in old lore, an imagination, and patience.
I’m missing the first two, so this game was a bit of a challenge for me.
Like a lot of point-and-click games (which this isn’t technically? but the style is very similar), you experience the world one screen at a time. Puzzle solutions come from interacting with objects. The puzzles are far from easy; some might say they’re insanely – if not impossibly – hard, while others find it easier to piece together everything.
I fell in the middle, which I think resulted in a fantastic experience. I was stumped enough a couple times that I was forced to wander around the world. The world feels both large and small at the same time, and each area serves a purpose… even if that purpose is just to give you a blank slate of snow to stare at while you rest your brain/heart.
The puzzle style is not foreign for anyone who has played puzzlers before, but the solutions force you to do things that might make you entirely uncomfortable, which builds a substantial amount of tension. More than a few times, I found myself closing my eyes as I completed a puzzle, as I was scared of what horrors the solution might bring.
As someone who is into creepy art, stories, and other forms of creepy media, I thought that Year Walk looked intriguing and that it would stimulate all of the creepy areas of my brain. Preliminary research described the game as “horrifying,” yet, after the first gameplay session, I thought this was a bit overstated. Yeah, I ran into a ghost, but that’s hardly terrifying.
As the nights dragged on, however, (I played this in bed at night, which isn’t the best time for a creepy puzzle game that requires sharp and deductive thinking), I found myself more and more surprised by what Year Walk threw at me.
Whether it was the telltale chittering of an unknown being only one screen away, finding dripping blood and knowing that I had to find the source of it, or being forced to navigate dark areas with only the faintest of lights, there was more tension than serenity.
If I can find more games that let me turn the lights off, get comfortable, and completely lose consciousness while staring into a 3.5-inch screen, I’ll pay a heck of a lot more than $3.99 for each experience.
The Companion App
One of the most brilliant aspects of the game is the Year Walk Companion app, so you absolutely must download this. How it incorporates with the game is a bit of a puzzle in itself, so I’ll let you figure that out for yourself. I showed the game to some people in the Indie Love community, and they agreed that the companion is equally, if not more creepy than the game itself.
Although I doubt I’ll put myself through the emotional experience of Year Walk again, I’m thrilled about the time I spent playing it, and I look forward to the future and what mobile game developers might throw at me. Year Walk proved that an iOS game can make me feel the same as any other game on any platform, but at a tiny fraction of the cost.