Video Game Review: Year Walk
Let’s face it: indie games have always had a reputation for being all hype and no delivery, and when it comes to horror titles, many of us find that indie games just don’t have what it takes to scare us silly – apart from a few titles, of course. However, just a few months ago, Funcom released The Park, a one- to two-hour game that puts players into the shoes of a distressed mother looking for her son in an amusement park after hours. It was an excellent showcase of what indie games could be, creating a horrifying story out of a communal fear of amusement parks after dark, and portraying the despair of a mother for her child in a unique way. Of course, The Park is a PC game, and it’s had many amazing games come before it, such as Amnesia, and we know there’s plenty of potential there.
What we rarely see, however, is indie horror games for mobile phones that do what they promise. Despite advancements in mobile technology and the obvious interest in mobile games, horror has been grossly underrated in mobile markets. According to the company behind Free Casino Hunter, 50% of all smartphone activity comes from gaming, and social gaming in particular continues to top the charts, with social games becoming worth $4 billion by the end of this year. It’s difficult to create horror games with the technology afforded by mobile phones, as the smaller screens, and slower processors are often unable to render the gore or create the ambience needed for horror titles. However, some developers have found that the answer lies in minimalist games that focus on a chilling story, and that games created with this in mind can be quite successful.
This brings us to Year Walk, a game by Simgogo, which was released in 2013 to staggeringly positive reviews. It revolves around the ancient Swedish practice of the “year walk”, in which one goes on a pilgrimage of sorts in order to see the future. In the game, the character takes a year walk to discover his future with his beloved, uncovering cryptic clues and encountering many strange creatures from Swedish mythology. The artwork is beautiful and haunting, and many of the puzzles require plenty of thinking outside of the box – and in some cases, thinking outside of the app itself. Along with the game, there is also a “Companion App”, which gives players a better understanding of the lore that the game builds upon.
One particularly interesting thing to note with Year Walk is that the game has also been released on Steam, becoming a point-and-click adventure, but losing most of its interactivity. In the mobile phone version, users would have to solve some puzzles by spinning their device around, and these elements are lost to the PC version. The experience of using the companion app is also lost, as the PC game simply makes use of a built-in encyclopedia to help guide you through your year-long vision quest.
Regardless, the game has some surprising chills. It wasn’t simply because of the occasional jumpscare either. The art was haunting, and so was the music, and the story even more so. It’s a game that showcases just what horror games can be on mobile phones, and it’s perfectly deserving of the near-perfect reviews it got from all the important critics.