In 2013, one iPhone game stood out among everything else as a truly remarkable, entirely singular, uncommonly captivating work of interactive art. It was beautiful, a two-dimensional first-person puzzle adventure that enraptured me from the moment I started it—and what a beginning. I headed from my cottage at the edge of the woods to a windmill on the other side. I met a girl there. We talked. She was cold towards me, distant, like she'd never been before. She avoided my gaze. I told her my plans. She warned against following through with them. I left her there. It wasn't long afterwards that I met the huldra. Minutes later, I near enough shit myself on a commuter train between Brighton and London.
It was a jump scare I wasn't expecting—but more fool me, as the only way to really approach Year Walk, made by the small team at Malmö-based studio Simogo, is with all bets off. It's not a game that's easily summarized in a sales-pitch sentence—even describing it as I did above, "a two-dimensional first-person puzzle adventure," while ticking a lot of face-value stylistic boxes, fails to convey its complete nature. It's also a horror game, all the more disturbing for its cuteness, its approachable twee aesthetic torn in two at a number of seat-edge-slipping moments. It's deeply atmospheric, despite its visible limitations, its almost paper-art looks. The soundtrack—subtle, creaking, eerie, and enchanting at once—is a vital aspect of the game's hold on its player, likewise its freedom: while there's a set order to the puzzles that must be adhered to, you're free enough to wander the woods, crunching through the New Year's Eve snow under a midnight moon, noting down clues and directions as you go. They will be useful later.
And now, with the game ported to Nintendo's Wii U, you can actually make notes without keeping pen and paper handy, as the GamePad menu has a tab that allows you to scribble down any hints you might find as you attempt to complete your "year walk." Or in other words, the Årsgång, an ancient Swedish means of divination, where participants went searching for clues to their future through strange rituals and encounters with supernatural creatures. You'll meet four (well, five, but two come as one) of these beings during your Year Walk playthrough: the huldra is the first, and to satisfy her you must know your lefts and rights, and when to follow them, and have a keen ear for pitch. The final entity is the Church Grim, a goat-headed humanoid who says nothing but stares right into your heart. Even encountering him for a fourth time sends shivers through me.
But mastering the Grim's challenges of GamePad manipulation doesn't present you with the real end of the game—even after the credits have rolled, there's more to discover, and you're holding one part of how to unlock the truest conclusion in your hands, as you play. There are secrets to Year Walk that only become apparent once morning's dawned—everything that happened, it can still be changed, and the watchers needn't always win. And to reveal any more is to spoil this game's majestic mystery for the newcomer.
And if that's you, and you're one of the ten million Wii U owners in the world, download this when the first chance arises, as it's an immediate essential among the console's growing indie catalogue. While Year Walk was already a great success on iOS, selling hundreds of thousands of copies, it's this port that represents the definitive experience—and that's the in the opinion of its makers, not some dumb critic like me.
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"It just feels very natural that you always have access to the encyclopedia, map, and such on the GamePad, while playing on the TV," Simogo's Simon Flesser tells me—his is the name you'll see first in the credits, which you should at least reach once given the Wii U port provides plenty of clues to help you overcome its trickier sections. "I love the new controls too. And as you know, a big part of Year Walk's puzzle design was based around having to take notes—with a stylus and a touchscreen always available, we could now integrate that into the experience, which feels great. So I think it's a number of things that just makes it feel as it came home at last."
The map is a great addition to the game, allowing you to immediately find the best route back to any clue you passed without properly processing. The encyclopedia provides information on the act of year walking itself, as well as all of the creatures met along the way, each entry readable in full before you've even encountered them. It's vital that you keep your eyes on both the television screen and the GamePad, as one puzzle demands that you explore both of them. Simogo has brilliantly integrated the GamePad into the Year Walk experience in a way that a lot of much larger developers, including Nintendo themselves, aren't always able to do, and while the new controls don't click immediately—you use the triggers to grip and move objects on the screen, having positioned a pointer over what you want to interact with—after a few minutes they feel natural enough to get by with, although nothing will ever be quite as immediate and intuitive as proper touch controls, as used on the iOS original.
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"There were a number of factors in bringing Year Walk to the Wii U," Flesser tells me, "and one was definitely that we could make the gameplay with the companion pieces feel really natural, because of the two-screen nature of the platform. I'm a big Nintendo fan, too, and when I play I mostly play on Nintendo platforms, so I always wanted to make something for their hardware. Another factor was that I had talked for some time about doing a project together with Rhodri Broadbent, at (Welsh studio) Dakko Dakko, and so, well, this was a good project to collaborate on."
"Early on, Rhod suggested that we'd try motion controls for the pointing, and to be honest I was really skeptical at first, even though I love motion controls," Flesser continues. "As the GamePad doesn't have an infrared pointer, like the Wii Remote, we had to be really creative how to use the gyroscope to control the pointer. It's tricky, because gyroscopes drift, and you can't be sure where the 'center' is. So we went through a number of iterations, and worked very hard on how players would re-center the cursor, until we settled for the current solution—which I really love. Holding both the shoulder buttons feels very physical, like you're really grabbing on to objects in the game world."
'Year Walk,' Wii U trailer
Year Walk's not a long game—even if you get a little lost, a little stuck, a little scared, you'll likely see Simon's name and those of his colleagues inside 80 minutes. Perhaps sooner, as the map doesn't half help get around the small woodland world more effectively than the somewhat blind rambling of the iOS version. That's before you attempt to solve What Comes Next, of course, but not everybody will have the dedication to crack the complex code that gives you the answers only teased prior to the first ending.
But don't allow that short playtime put you off from downloading this unique game, as it is really is an unforgettable offering from developers who regularly burst with creativity. The multi-award-winning, highly innovative text adventure Device 6 and excellently addictive rhythm action game Beat Sneak Bandit: those are Simogo's babies, too; likewise The Sailor's Dream and Bumpy Road. Yet it's Year Walk that's perhaps the studio's finest achievement, immediate of impact and lasting of impression, quite unlike anything else you'll play on a mobile device—and now, on the Wii U. And after the tie-in E-book Bedtime Stories for Awful Children, the Nintendo port also represents the final time that Simogo will visit this surreal world of archaic traditions and disquieting spirits. Probably.
"We're now done with revisiting our universes for a little while," Flesser says, "and I think it's safe to assume that we won't make a sequel to Year Walk. At least, not any time soon. New adventures!"
Year Walk is released for Wii U via the Nintendo eShop on September 17, and is available now for iOS, Windows, and Mac. Buy it, because it's dead good. Find more information at the Simogo website.
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