Year Walk is an atmospheric puzzle adventure game set in bitter cold deep dark woods. There is a cabin and a girl, snow and blood, puzzles and a story that unfolds in your mind as you put the puzzle pieces together. It is also a little meta. The game isn’t contained within the game alone. It stretches across two apps, the game and a free app called Year Walk Companion.
Simogo, the minds behind Year Walk, say on the game page that “[b]oth are enjoyable in their own right, but together they create an experience that is greater than the sum of its parts.” Taking the puzzle outside of the game is a stroke of genius and what makes Year Walk unforgettable.
Christian Donlan gave it an 9 out of 10: “Elegant and artful, Year Walk is an unmissable piece of work – and one that is surprisingly hard to disentangle yourself from once it’s done. You can close the app and put down the phone, but the forest may spread beyond its glassy confines, its spindly, silver-skinned trees taking root in your own home, your own dreams.
Mark Brown scored it an 8 out of 10: “As with any good page-turner, you won’t want to put this game down until you get to the end. It’s quite a journey, too. Year Walk is a beguiling adventure, and a truly memorable experience.”
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Chris Reed gave it a 2 out of 4 and cautions:” you might find some puzzles indecipherable, waste a bunch of time walking around fruitlessly, and rage-quit, never to open the app again. It all depends on how patient, smart, and lucky you are.” He concludes: “Trying new things in any market is risky, and developers should be rewarded for attempting something beyond the standard game tropes we’ve seen hundreds of times. Year Walk does that. But it’s also a game, and games should be enjoyable to play. Year Walk is unique, but we can’t say we enjoyed playing it very much.”
It is not an accessible game for anyone with photophobia and may be a problem if you have significant vision loss. The screen flickers often for effect throughout and a lengthy flashing puzzle sequence is very bright. The elements within some puzzles are quite small and hard to decipher yet integral to the game that revolves around small details. The navigation arrows are quite small as well.
It is accessible to anyone with colour blindness with no reliance on colour. Almost exclusively played in black in white, it is also accessible to anyone with mild vision loss helped by high contrasts. Motion sickness should not be a problem as the flickering shaky camera moments are limited to visual effects during cinematics, smooth movement and the camera angle fixed.
It comes as no surprise that the makers of rhythm wonder Beat Sneak Bandit make heavy use of audio in Year Walk. The audio cues are incredibly well done, the soundtrack creates a thrilling atmosphere. I would highly recommend making use of it.
For those with a hearing impairment, it may be a show stopper. Early on in the game there is an audio “match pitch” puzzle. There are two notes, one instrumental, another a female vocalist and you have to select the option where the two notes are the same. Except for the single audio puzzle, all other sound is ambient and optional. If you want to play Year Walk, bypass the audio puzzle by looking up the sequence in a walk through and there should not be any further obstacles.
The controls of Year Walk require a high level of muscular control. Navigation is done with scrolling and dragging. The game imagery can be moved up, down, left or right by dragging. When a white arrow appears, move to the next screen by dragging away from the arrow. One puzzle requires you to walk your fingers across the screen to move it, then grab an object, hold on to it by keeping your finger pressed down on it and then navigate moving back across multiple panels with your other hand. Two hands are definitely required to play through this sequence.
Quick reflexes is not a requirement. If you can use a touch screen with precision with both hands, it should not be physically difficult to play.
It is difficult to make challenging puzzle games that is also accessible. Year Walk has a few challenges – puzzles that require abstract thinking, navigation that at times are difficult to figure out and a lengthy text based addendum plays a key role in solving the final puzzle.
The puzzles in Year Walk are abstract connections. If you have not played many puzzle games, they can be very frustrating and difficult. They require a robust skill of applying logic: ” What if I use this sequence in that situation? What if I think about the device in my hands and how it affects the world on its screen? What if I assume everything is connected?” 1
Navigation is disorienting and potentially difficult to follow. Moving in Year Walk is done across a series of interconnected screens. The same screens are traversed repeatedly but approached from different angles as you enter from the left this time, from the top the next time and so on. If you are directionally challenged, like me, it is easy to get lost in the shuffle and loose you way.
The latter part of the game consists of reading a journal that can be difficult to assimilate if you struggle with large portions of text in various formats and fonts.
It is not entirely riddled with obstacles. There is no math in Year Walk nor any social interaction. It does not require memorizing anything. Some puzzles have sequences, but these can be written down. Although everything is connected, most of the time the pieces of the puzzles are provided at the point where you are given a task, removing the need to remember various clues that may come in useful at various different stages much later on.
- None. There is no menu.
Year Walk is not the usual mobile fare of empty distractions experienced in short multiple minute play sessions. It demands your full attention and when you complete it, you will probably be left with an empty screen lying next to a notepad filled with mad scribbles. I started playing it late at night with a headset in the dark and that was the perfect setting for it, but very soon I had to jot down a sequence. In that moment I desperately wished for a small in-game journal that would record it for me. I stopped playing then and when I returned it was with a second screen, a walk through and a little less enthusiasm.
Its accessible access is flawed, but not insurmountable except for anyone with photophobia, poor muscle control resulting in a lack of precision and anyone who struggles to figure out abstract puzzles. It is a sophisticated game unique in the sea of homogeneous mobile games. Many will not be able to negotiate it, but if you can play it, do, it is an unforgettable experience.
1. Year Walk Review by Christian Donlan, Eurogamer
[stars rating=”5″ type=”Game”]