Year Walk

I really have no idea why, 2 and a half years later, Year Walk is making the jump from iOS to the WiiU, but I do know it's had an odd path here. Despite the original iOS release being so reliant on touch screens and a companion app, it hasn't come out on any other phone operating system, instead going from iOS to PC (no touch screen) to WiiU (no companion app and a less good touch screen and motion controls).

Developer Simogo is labeling this one as the 'definitive edition', though having not played either of the other ones I'm not sure what that really means. If the PC version had new locations and puzzles, perhaps the WiiU one has more? Maybe this is just the version they're happiest with? Maybe it's just a marketing term. Probably that.

Although I do have to say, one of the last puzzles in the game is by far most rewarding in this version, which I only know because I looked it up, as it took me a super long time to figure out. Turns out the iOS version has one solution to the puzzle (just given to you), the PC has another (which you venture around for), and the WiiU has a third, presented as a riddle and a cipher. Since the WiiU version isn't OUT as of this writing, there were no solutions, which made me even happier when I finally figured it out. It's one of many "wow that's so cool!" moments the game's filled with, and this in particular is something unique to this version.

I'm being vague by necessity, as Year Walk is a game that rewards going in knowing very little. Like Fez, it's a game that is best going in blind and picking your way through and solving the mysteries that way, instead of just opening a guide or watching a video. The puzzles in this game are clever, for the most part, and reward you taking notes and knowing when to use the knowledge you find.

To aid in this, the GamePad actually has 5 views: a map, a notepad for scribbling your findings, a guide to the actual year walk and the beings you'll find along the way, a hint system (naughty naughty!), and a locked screen that... well...

It's taken a few years to actually start seeing games that use the WiiU's best features, but Year Walk puts it to great use without ever looking like it's trying. The GamePad winds up being far more important to completing the game than just taking notes and reading about the creatures, and when the final puzzle is solved, the way you've used it is frankly brilliant. There's such a confidence to the way the developers hide and challenge you to find knowledge to move on, and further, the confidence that users will figure it out. Year Walk is a little on the short side, but that doesn't mean it's lacking in ideas.

That said, I found the game lost a little momentum towards the end. Previous things I'd done had shown such depth, created such a story, that the final stretch was a little disappointing. While gorgeous to look at and still no doubt unsettling, I'd also figured out that there's probably no real fail state, so even some of the tension was gone. There's still cool moments in there, though, and it was enough that when my walk was over, I was extremely happy.

Also of note is the kind of odd motion controls, which are a bit unwieldy. The game never really asks for much in terms of precision so it's not too much of an issue, and it re-syncs the center position each time ZL is hit, but sometimes you still lose something you were dragging or the system just works a little off of what you wanted. It's no more punishing than just having you try again, but I was left wondering – I DO have a touch screen. Why not just use that?

Turns out it's because they had other plans for the touch screen, but I better not say more.

Now that I've finally had a chance to play Year Walk I know exactly why everyone was so fascinated by it when it came out. Hauntingly atmospheric, clever and interestingly presented, it surprises at many turns and rewards players for being smart and attentive. It's a bit of a short run, but it ends right when it needs to, leaving itself in the player's mind for long afterwards.