Year Walk Review

Make no mistake: Year Walk is a beautiful and enigmatic game that creates a bleak atmosphere you won’t find in other titles on the App Store. There’s some serious artistry going on here. And rather than explaining anything to players, it trusts them to suss out its many mysteries. You might be enchanted by the game. You might become obsessed with it. On the other hand, 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.

Developer Simogo says the game is based on Swedish folklore, but you won’t learn anything about the subject unless you download the separate (and free) Year Walk Companion app. The companion app has informative write-ups about the mythological creatures you encounter in the game (plus a big secret of its own), so if you play Year Walk, you definitely need to download the companion.

A “year walk” is an ancient Swedish tradition of walking through the woods at night to see what your future holds. (We’ll take the game’s word on it, because neither Google nor Wikipedia turns up any information about this tradition). At the start of the game, the woman you love warns you that going on a year walk is a bad idea, but you pay her no mind. And she’s right: the moment you step outside, you find yourself trapped in a nightmare of disturbing visions, lonely exploration, and cryptic puzzle-solving.

Most of the environment is open to you from the start, and the game lets you wander around, poking at oddities and following mythical creatures to your heart’s content. It doesn’t tell you where to go or what to do; instead, it trusts that you’ll figure it out on your own.

As you wander around, you’ll find mysterious hints and curious objects that you’re not sure what to do with. There’s a box with a dial on it, for instance, and you can turn the dial to highlight different symbols, but it’s clear that the answer to this puzzle lies elsewhere. Most of the puzzles have you do standard adventure game things like tapping items in a certain order or carrying objects from one screen to another. Sometimes the solution is obvious, but other times it’s elusive– often frustratingly so. There are no hints or nudges in the game aside from what you can find by exploring the environment.

Whether or not you appreciate this kind of hands-off gameplay approach largely depends on your level of patience. We got through several of the puzzles easily (and felt smart doing it), but before long found ourselves stuck, with nothing to do but run around, baffled and annoyed and wanting to move on. The game world is large, complicated, and sparse enough to be a pain to navigate through, particularly when you’re searching for hints you’re not even sure you’re going to find.

Other games, like The Room, have managed to find a happy medium between challenging puzzles and rewarding solutions. But too often, Year Walk tucks the puzzle solutions away where they’re annoyingly hard to find.

And that’s too bad, because Year Walk is a gorgeous, atmospheric game. Will appeal to a certain type of player? Absolutely. But we found it too cryptic and frustrating for our tastes. Thankfully, several online walkthroughs have already sprung up, so even if you find yourself stuck you can see how it ends. And whether you need assistance or not, be prepared to do a lot of reading in the Companion app before you reach the “real” ending.

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.

  • Runnygnome

    Both of the flaws described are not flaws, they are features. Since when is no hand-holding a bad thing? Difficult puzzles are poor as well? It’s obvious what happened here. The game was too hard for you. And that’s okay. Just don’t call it a fact.

    • STP_Chris

      It’s not just the lack of a hint system that bothered me about Year Walk. There are ways of upping a game’s difficulty that work to its benefit. Take Super Meat Boy, Dark Souls, The Room, or the Etrian Odyssey series. Those are all better games for being (very) challenging. The high difficulty level pulls you forward and makes you feel a sense of accomplishment when you finally succeed.

      To me, Year Walk didn’t have that. I felt like it was wasting my time instead of pulling me on. Obviously a lot of people had a different reaction, and that’s great. We’re all here because we like playing video games and talking about them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/and.belli Andrea Belli

    Whattttt!? The only problem with this game is that is really short. The design is absolutely fantastic!!

  • JoelSixPack

    This game is brilliant in every way: atmosphere, art style, story, gameplay, and innovation.

    Some of the puzzles are challenging, but isn’t that true for pretty much every point-and-click adventure/puzzle game? I got stuck once, and even though I was playing it within hours of its U.S. release, I still found the solution online in only a matter of minutes.

    Honestly, even after reading the full review I’m not sure how STP came up with a 2/4; it’s like we played two different games. For anyone on the fence about getting this, just know that its Metascore right now is 90/100, STPs score (50/100) is the lowest by far, 7 out of 16 critics gave it a 100/100, and 6 out of 16 critics gave it a 90/100. So basically what I’m trying to say is that this game is getting all kinds of positive reviews, and I think everybody with an iOS device should check it out.

  • Happy dayz…

    How is ‘no hand holding’ a con? That’s the point of a puzzle game, they let you figure it out.

  • chongololo

    Embarrassing review.

  • MetalVic

    I’m with STP. In the first hour I find myself twice having to grab pen and paper to take notes on a meaningless string taps that would be used in some other part of the environment. Give me some way to take notes with my touchscreen device, or leave this kind of crap to cheat codes. Let’s see… up up down down left right, wait, what was next? If this relatively simple change is made, maybe I’d go back to it, but it’s not staying on my iPad as is.

    • http://matt-curtis.me/ Matt Curtis

      That’s probably because you’re not the kind of player this was geared to, at all. Have you ever played a puzzle game before? Writing down the symbols and hints are part of what make it fun – like you were on scavenger hunt, and drawing your map as you went.

  • MetalVic

    string *of* taps (Why can’t I edit my posts?)

  • helixmuse

    This review is hilariously awful. Pure comedy.

  • B3nlok

    Bizarre and embarrassing review. First time ever i see someone pointing
    no “hand-holding” as a bad thing.

  • STP_Chris

    Hi guys, it’s the reviewer here. About the “no hand-holding being a con” thing. I was referring to the game’s lack of a hint system. I think a hint system is helpful in some games and unnecessary in others. I would have appreciated a hint system in Year Walk because when you miss a clue or don’t know what to do next, virtually the entire game world is open to you. Numerous times I found myself backtracking through every screen of the game, looking for whatever it was I’d missed. That’s when I felt like I was wasting my time and became frustrated. Maybe I’m just bad at the game, but that was my experience with it, so that’s what I had to write in my review.

    On that note, I’m glad that so many of you liked Year Walk, and I appreciate you engaging in the conversation about the game.

    • JoelSixPack

      Hi Chris. You’re certainly entitled to your own opinion, but hasn’t getting stuck from time to time always been a part of puzzle games? And while I will agree that an integrated hint system can be nice, I don’t know if it’s fair to expect one in every game, or to hold it against a game like this that doesn’t have one. I actually suspect that they intentionally left it out to build a greater sense of isolation and disorientation. But really, I don’t see why it matters: We’re all playing the game on internet-connected devices, so if you get to a point of extreme frustration, just look up the solution in a guide before the experience gets ruined because of some small clue that you might have missed.

      • http://matt-curtis.me/ Matt Curtis

        Exactly. I guessed what the solution to certain puzzles were, but was too lazy to figure it all out for myself, so I Googled it. Most of the solutions aren’t tough, they just require you to think.

    • http://matt-curtis.me/ Matt Curtis

      But that seriously sounds like almost every puzzle game that’s worth anything that I’ve played: at some point you get stuck and have to backtrack and think. It’s the same thing here. Just because you can’t finish it in on sitting doesn’t mean it’s bad.

  • Brett Vaughn

    It’s good to see Chris Reed enjoyed Skip-Bo at least…
    That one got a proud 3, as well it should!

  • http://pinoyteens.net/ PinoyTeens.Net

    I’ve lost hope in Touch Arcades reviews… leaving me with this site and a few others to rely on reviews – but this one is a little off. Luckily insta-bought the game when it came out and didn’t wait for this review.

  • http://twitter.com/ETC37 Erik Carlson

    Now I feel like I have to play this game. It’s getting such divisive reactions! I bought it when it came out but have yet to give it a whirl.

    • http://matt-curtis.me/ Matt Curtis

      Take the plunge, take the Walk.

  • Vovin

    Ahahahaha…. oh my god, how ridiculous. Maybe ask mommy to play with you, she can hold your hand.
    Geez, now we need to tell all devs that they never put a difficulty in games again.
    I mean, I breezed through the whole game in 90 minutes (first time). Without problems.
    I am done with your reviews. I don’t need reviews by people who aren’t able to play a puzzle game.
    This is one of the most embarrassing reviews ever.

  • Vovin

    Done with STP reviews. Weaklings.

  • http://twitter.com/ETC37 Erik Carlson

    Honestly, to the people who are saying things like “weaklings”, or ridiculous or embarrassing or writing other offensive insults…why are you here? If you disagree with a review or comment or something else, that’s obviously fine. But just being out and out insulting just lowers the level of discourse.

    There’s nothing wrong with disagreeing with a review or article, but when your comments or disagreements are nothing more than the equivalent of a temper-tantrum, then you just make the forums a hostile, unfriendly and unpleasant place to be.

    And that’s not what gaming should be about.

    • Saansilt

      Oh rah man, we dont need forum wars here. This is why this is STP not IGN.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=507323 Steve Palley

    Y’all are always welcome to share your opinions on STP. If you don’t like what we have to say about a game, that’s totally fine, as long as you keep it civil. We appreciate your feedback and we welcome the chance to engage in an intelligent debate with our readers, who are among the smartest, best-informed, and most passionate iOS gamers out there.

    We’ve posted our fair share of controversial reviews over the four and a half years we’ve been around. Believe me when I say that the adverse reaction to the Year Walk review probably doesn’t even rate in our all-time Top 10 (check out Super Crate Box, http://www.slidetoplay.com/review/super-crate-box-review/, to see what I’m talking about).

    We’ve been called every bad name you can think of, but we’re still here, and we’re still doing what we do, which is to call it like we see it. We don’t care whether a game has tremendous indie buzz, is totally unique, wins prestigious awards, or pulls a 90+ on Metacritic. If we think the emperor has no clothes, we’re going to say so, even if we’re literally the only reviewers to do it.

    You may not always agree with our opinion, but you can always count on us for an absolutely honest appraisal of a game… and we’ve played a heck of a lot of games.

    • Repelstale

      If someone feels the need to stick up for something he feels is right, entertaining or just plain good, this forum is the place to be. Especially because this is the kind of place people keep an eye on when they’re considering to buy a game, but are not sure whether it’s worth it. The kind of people who don’t trust indie buzz, prestigious awards or metacritic scores. The kind of people who trust in the opinion of you guys, Steve, Chris, Andrew.

      And it’s our job, the forum dwellers, to protect these innocent souls from getting games that are NOT worth it. Like Horn. It’s also our job to see that they get the games that ARE worth it. Like Battle of the Bulge. Or Year Walk.

      Talking about Year Walk, I just have to say I really love these tight suspenseful and very well thought out little adventures. Like Sword&Sworcery or Dream:scape, they know exactly what kind of story they want to tell, take you along for the ride, and don’t overstay their welcome. These are the kind of experiences I hope to get much more of. I’m already looking forward to Tengami.