Two apps, a vision quest, and an adventure game: you need to play Year Walk
Year Walk, a game available on iOS devices, is based on the ancient Swedish custom of årsgång – or, loosely translated, “year walk.” Individuals wishing to know what the future year would bring would seal themselves into dark rooms and fast before walking through the woods. Visions would often appear during these journeys.
If the individual saw creatures or visions related to harvest, that meant a good crop in the upcoming season. If they saw aggressive creatures armed with weapons, the individual would expect war or a battle. Here’s some of what you’ll see in your Year Walk:
A horse-headed man who waits to guide the spirits of drowned infants. A doll whose head spins around to reveal a crooked, bleeding grin. A giant bird who seems to erupt forth from the beak of a small raven.
I won’t spoil where the plot goes or why these visions make sense, because what each of these things represent and why you’re experiencing them is part of the game.
Two for the weirdness of one
Year Walk exists across two apps, and you’ll need both in order to get the full experience. Year Walk‘s companion app, appropriately titled “Year Walk Companion,” acts as both a small encyclopedia and an expansion to the overall plot. Here’s how it works:
The companion app has a very simple user interface, designed much like the iPhone and iPad’s own interfaces. You swipe left and right through the available entries, which give further detail about each subject. So, for example, if you want to know more about that horse-headed man, you would swipe over to the icon that’s shaped like a horse, the bäckahästen. Swipe down and you’ll read all about this mythical creature.
The entries are credited to Theodor Almsten, an expert in Scandinavian folklore. Apparently, developers Simogo wanted the game to have an authentic feel, hence their collaboration with someone knowledgeable in the subject. But Almsten isn’t just knowledgeable, he’s a part of the story.
I always hate the difficulty in reviewing games like this. I want to tell you why Almsten’s involvement is so special and why you need the companion app. Sure, it’ll help you solve puzzles by giving you context clues that coincide with the game, but it’s much more than that. However, I can’t say how without ruining a major twist.
Let’s just say that Almsten isn’t who you think he is, and the companion app is likewise deceptive. You think you’re reading something from the developers, and that the companion app acts as a sort of window through the fourth wall.
But once you find out what the app actually is, and what it does, it might be more apt to label it as a fifth wall. It’s an extension you weren’t aware existed, snaking behind you to pull you deeper into the narrative. You didn’t come into this story through the app; you’ve been here the whole time.
Walking the walk
Even the best game narratives can be ruined or be made nigh unbearable with clumsy controls, but Year Walk does a great job at being responsive, easy to learn, and clever with its use of the iPhone and iPad technology. You’ll use swiping motions, multi-touch, and the gyroscopic sensor to solve the many mysteries of the forest. This is a game that wouldn’t be possible on a more traditional console or portable device.
Year Walk is a classic point-and-click adventure game at its core. You interact with puzzles as you move from area to area by swiping across the screen until you see an arrow on either the top or bottom of the screen, and then swiping up or down to follow the arrow. You’re not truly following a path; a more accurate description might be to say you’re flipping between layers of an image.
Think of cartoons, with a background, midground, and foreground – when watching on the TV, we see the foreground move the fastest, and the background move the slowest to create a sense of movement, but we can also see where they separate. Now, imagine you can transition and move between these layers, and each time you do, a new layer appears to replace the one you’ve just explored. Move into the background and a new, deeper background appears.
The effect is reminiscent of a dolly zoom, sometimes referred to as “the Jaws shot.” Most of Year Walk is animated in 2D, giving the impression of something like a paper puppet theatre, and these combined effects give the game a dream-like feel. Considering the game is based on what amounts to a vision quest, that’s an appropriate aesthetic.
Year Walk‘s request is simple: Let’s get lost in the woods at midnight. Let’s take a walk.