Critical Play: Mysteries

Game: Year Walk

Creator: Simogo

Platform: iOS, macOS, Windows

Target Audience: New & experienced gamers who have access to one of the platforms listed

Formal Elements & Aesthetics

Year Walk is a single-player walking sim & mystery game set in an eerie Swedish forest. Players enter the game from a character’s point of view (first-person) and can explore the forest by using their hand (on iPhone/Android) to swipe right/left & move around until an arrow appears on the screen to indicate which direction (north/south) they should proceed to get to the next puzzle in the game. These puzzles are what allow players to move onto the next step in the game.

The objective of the game is to get to the final destination, which is the church. The outcome of the game is determined based on whether the player was able to solve the puzzles to advance them towards final location (access to more space in environment) and overcome the obstacles posed by the other creatures lurking in the dark corners of the forest. If so, the player makes it to the church and gains the ability to foresee the future.

Year Walk’s environment supports the mystery theme of this game. One specific way is the very eerie characters and environment that are designed to elicit fear & mystery in players. Set in the dead of winter, at the strike of midnight, in the cold, lonely, and creepy Swedish forest, there’s a lot of questions and unknowns you need to uncover. You, as the protagonist, float through the forest (like a ghost) and see through the eyes of the Year Walker (evident by the narrow screen size). The characters, by design, are scary looking (a doll which rotates her head and has blood all over the face) and each interaction leaves you with more questions you want to find answers to. Furthermore, the font choice in Year Walk portrays the eerieness and mystery the game evokes. The glitchiness of the screen is effective in invoking a sense of mystery.

These game mechanics create the aesthetics of discovery and fantasy. Players have to walk around the eerie forest’s uncharted territory and discover the different areas to understand the layout of the land and get to their final destination. Furthermore, the idea of a year walker character and the power to foresee the future are all elements of a make-believe world and another reason this game is enjoyable to play.

Successes, Fails, & Potential Improvements

Year Walk effectively centers the narrative such that the player has to engage with it in order to find the game enjoyable. The game has periods where you’re walking around, exploring the environment, and appreciating it which untraditional in other games. The dialogues occur in real-time, allowing the game to emphasize the storytelling and leveraging the environment to make it central to the objective of the game.

The designers added snow to reduce the level of graphical fidelity. This is a smart design choice since its easier to implement this (don’t need to design the detail of the landscape) and especially if they had a low budget (most likely since the game only costs $3.99). Additionally, displaying conversations simply as texts on screen reduces work for the designers (don’t need to show character talking – just need to show a snipit which requires much less work).

Despite these successes, one failure/potential improvement lies in the lack of First Order Optimal Strategies (F.O.O. Strategies) which is suppose to make it easy for new players to ease into the game play. I had to look up hints to get acclimated to the game because they throw you into the game environment and introduce the first puzzle immediately. Leaving all of the mechanics to be figured out by the player gives room for disinterest. A quick walk-through of the core mechanics during the initial onboarding screens would have helped a first-time player adjust to the game much more seamlessly.

For a $3.99 game, I think they did a really good job creating a mystery game that’s affordable yet enjoyable!

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