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Simogo embraces eeriness in Year Walk iPhone game

by Phil Hornshaw

Developer Simogo is one of the few indie darlings in the mobile space. The dynamic duo, comprised of Simon Flesser and Magnus "Gordon" Gardebäck, is known for making cute, intuitive games (Bumpy Road, Beat Sneak Bandit, and Kosmo Spin) that mix easygoing fun with emotional subject matter. Its games are often colorful and lighthearted with simple yet enjoyable mechanics.

That’s what makes the developer’s most recent title, Year Walk, so fascinating. It’s not much of a stretch to consider Year Walk a horror title. Set in 19th century Sweden, players undertake a nighttime vision quest that includes strange creatures and a number of challenging puzzles. The story is a bit morbid, factoring in ghostly infants, horse-headed business men, dolls with bleeding eyes, and spectral women.

Having said that, Year Walk stays true to Simogo’s usual gorgeous form. Its art style invokes a cardboard or a pop-up book aesthetic, and while the game might conform to some horror tropes, players will spend most of their time swiping around various wintery landscapes, solving enigmas and explore the world. It might be a bit scary looking, but Year Walk encourages your curiosity, and doesn’t try to fill you with inescapable dread.

Year WalkYear Walk eschews a tutorial, erring on exploration. Throughout the game, players encounter obstacles, where they must intuit solutions based on the game’s touch controls and clues found in the world. It can seem daunting at first, but once you’re on a roll, Year Walk’s puzzles fall into place and become easier to surmount. You can also download Year Walk Companion, a reference app from Simogo that explains the game’s Swedish myths and creatures.

Simogo has definitely hit on something interesting with Year Walk, matching cartoon art style and easygoing gameplay with challenging puzzles and a darker tone. And the developer’s other titles are all worth a look as well, each for different reasons.

Go for a Sunday drive

The game that really captured the imaginations of mobile gamers was Simogo’s Bumpy Road. The side-scrolling title is all about an elderly couple going for a drive, but rather than controlling the car, players control the ground beneath it. Moving a finger across the screen can make the ground pop up or drop down, creating hills, valleys and lifts. Those movements in turn can move the car onto platforms and over gaps.

Bumpy Road’s gameplay might be simplistic, but the story the game tells is much deeper. Moving through each level presents players with collectible snapshots, and each of those photographs tells part of the couple’s life together. It’s one of the most endearing games in the iTunes App Store.

We got the beat

The last Simogo title before Year Walk was among the best loved of 2012: Beat Sneak Bandit. As you might guess, the game is about stealth and sneaking. Players avoid detection as they move through each level. The trick of the game, however, is to keep the background music’s beat in each stage. In order to move, players tap in time with the music, so timing is critical both to evading guards and to efficiently crossing each level.

Beat Sneak Bandit is gorgeous in a number of ways, offering both straightforward paths through levels and alternative challenges. The game also demonstrates Simogo’s understanding of what makes the mobile platform great: games that are easy to pick up and understand, with simple interactions yet layers of complexity.

With a growing pedigree of great games across a number of genres and styles, Simogo is proving itself to be a talented group capable of harnessing the power of mobile devices to deliver inventive, original games. Their foray into horror themes with Year Walk is impressive, and like the rest of their growing catalog, it’s worth checking out.

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