I still have the chills.
I put down my phone and yanked my earbuds out, and I can’t shake what I just experienced. I’m looking around my dark room as if expecting something to happen, some apparition to appear, but nothing does. Year Walk will do that to you. It’s easy to describe Simogo’s latest iOS app as a first-person puzzle game but that’s a vast simplification of what you’ll find here. Melding horror elements with adventure, mythology and literature, it’s unlike any other game out there.
But what is a year walk? Årsgång (Swedish for "year walk") was an ancient tradition that purportedly allowed the person to see into the future. Consider it a Swedish vision quest, a pagan rite that sent you off into the wild to hallucinate.
In order to go on a year walk you would sit alone in a room without warmth, light, or food for an entire day. Typically this would be in the middle of a freezing winter on New Year’s Eve but you could also do it on another festival day, foregoing the feast for isolation and hunger. After your day-long fast you would wait till the stroke of midnight to leave the room and head off to the church, encountering the supernatural creatures of the forest on the way. The creatures you met would pose threats to your safety- mentally, spiritually, and physically. When you finally got to the church you would walk around it in a pattern and then face down the Church Grim.
I'm honestly getting chills just writing this and remembering what I went through, damn it, if you need even more proof of how deep this game gets inside you. The atmosphere is tremendous- there’s no UI to speak of, no directions given to you. When you start your walk you’re simply there. You have to figure it all out yourself. The world surreal right from the start, a 2D plane that unfolds like a pop-up book. You’ll scroll the screen left or right until you find a path up or down, and watch the world bounce into place as you head that direction. The paths seem designed to be as confusing as possible and you’ll frequently get lost as you try to get your bearings. Dream logic applies here as paths seem to criss-cross each other but never meet. You’ll come across puzzles here and there and start to put things together slowly, with the aid of some incredible sound design. Every little noise feels like it could be some new threat, or hint to some puzzle.
As you start you’ll only have the crunch of snow to accompany you but you’ll soon start to find locations to interact with, and creatures, and well... you’ll see how that all works out. Suffice it to say that this game can be absolutely terrifying at points and is best experienced in the dark with headphones. In fact I’d say that’s the only way to experience that- at night, with no distractions. To do anything else would rob you of the experience, same as with any other creepy atmospheric game like Amnesia: The Dark Descent, which was probably the last game to make me so unsettled.
Year Walk was released with a separate Companion app that isn’t really optional, as both apps work hand in hand. By itself the companion is a neat little guide that details the Swedish myths that populate the game, and it’s a fun read by itself. It’s actually advisable to read through it before you even start the game just so you have an idea of what you’ll come up against. Unless you’re Swedish you’ll likely have never heard of these mythological figures, so having some background on what they are, what made them, and what they’re capable of will actually make the game that much scarier.
Simogo, known for cutesy action titles like Bumpy Road and Beat Sneak Bandit, has really surprised everyone with this. There are certainly plenty of unique puzzle games on iOS such as The Room (the app by Fireproof games, not the "You're tearing me apart!" Room), which cleverly implement puzzles into a touch-screen environment. But Year Walk still stands out from those titles with its clever implementation of mythology and story. It can be completed in just a few hours but once you get to the end you’ll understand just how special it is.