Critical Play: Mysteries

For this critical play, I decided to play Year Walk on iOS, which is developed by Simogo. Since Year Walk is a bit creepy, I assume that the target audience is early teens+. I played Year Walk for about an hour, and from what I can tell, the types of fun are narrative and discovery. The outcome is non-zero sum, meaning that there is no winning or losing, just discovery. However, the objective, based on the beginning sequence, is to solve the mystery and see the future. There are few/no resources to accomplish this goal.

The narrative and mystery are intertwined in Year Walk through the setting and mechanics of the game. The setting is in an isolated, snowy area with eerie symbols and characters throughout. The game advances by exploring the environment’s multiple paths. Some of these paths don’t lead to anything useful, but that is a part of the mystery. The player must try out different paths and determine whether what is found is relevant to the narrative. Typically, if new characters appeared, they would guide me to the next step and help me discover how the narrative unfolds. For example, the first encounter was with a woman n(the main character’s girlfriend) in the town. After a bit of dialogue, she advised me to return home. Once returning home, I noticed that new paths had appeared. So, I knew that I should be looking for new characters. Some characters did not say anything, but would lead me to significant locations. These clues helped the narrative unfold and helped me feel as if I was solving a mystery.

The mechanics also helped intertwine mystery with the narrative. I was surprised that Year Walk did not have a menu or any instructions. It only offered small arrows at the top of bottom of the screen to show me a path. I had to figure out how to advance the game by trying out different motions on my phone, such as tapping and swiping. After some trial and error, I learned which controls were useful. While I was frustrated at the lack of guidance, I will admit that this added mystery to the experience and made me feel as if I was truly alone in wandering through the woods. The narrative could only unfold with discoveries that I made alone.

While I appreciated the independence provided, I do think that the lack of guidance was taken too far. I took a break from Year Walk because I reached a point where I was sure I had explored every single path at least 4 times and still nothing was happening. I caved and googled what to do next and learned that the pattern of a creepy doll’s arm movements (see photo) was the same pattern needed to use on owls to unlock the next step. I would have never guessed this on my own, and I assume many players stop playing at this point out of frustration. I think that the game would have benefited from a limited number of hints to bail the player out when needed while maintaining the independence needed for mystery.

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