If you're looking for a unique gaming experience, Simogo's Year Walk on iOS is one of a breathtaking kind.
On Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve, Scandinavian tradition goes, a person may go for a ritual walk, a vision quest of sorts, in the dark of the night to see what the year ahead will bring. After a day of isolated fast in a darkened room, the walker carefully observes everything he or she sees along the way, interpreting it into a picture of the future.
It's this strange tradition of Årsgång, or "year walking", on which Simogo's latest game is based.
We already had a high opinion of the Swedish developer. Its previous games Kosmo Spin, Bumpy Road and Beat Sneak Bandit were all quirky, beautifully designed and — a rarity in the App Store even for one game, never mind a single developer's entire oeuvre — original and fresh.
Year Walk did not fail to meet our expectations. However, it's a bit of a deviation for Simogo, which has left behind the quirky and cute in favour of deeply spooky atmosphere.
It's also not a casual game as we would define them. In fact, in order to appreciate the game fully, we recommend a block of time and a set of noise-cancelling headphones.
It starts off by throwing you into the deep end: there are no instructions, just a few on-screen cues, and you begin the game standing in a wintery birch forest outside a log cabin. As you navigate through the woods by swiping the screen, you see ostensibly ordinary things that somehow seem ominous: a pile of wood, a broken spinning wheel.
As it transpires, you are in love with a girl, but her family wants her to marry someone else. So you feel that you need to do a year walk in order to get a feel for the year ahead. She protests, as something has happened to the last few people who have tried. You don't listen.
It's a game that's about exploration, about figuring things out for yourself. There are no obvious hints. Don't be fooled by the sparseness: it's one amazing ride. The wooden doll hanging in a small wooden hut, a standing stone with strange carvings, trees marked with sigils; anything could be significant, and it's up to you to take note of what you see and experience.
The puzzles, likewise, make you figure out what you need to do. In one section, we were in a darkened area, following pools of light on the ground. Each pool sang a note, and you had to follow a progression of a major scale. In another, we returned to the object several times, trying a couple of different things before we figured it out.
That figuring out? It's intensely, deeply satisfying.
And that goes hand in hand with Year Walk's overall emotional intensity: the creeping tension of your footsteps in the snow, the eerie music and the jolting scares that have you almost jumping out of your skin.
To accompany the game, Simogo has also released the Year Walk Companion, a free guide that explains some of the ghosts and beasties that you'll encounter in the woods. It's fascinating — but it may contain spoilers, so whether you choose to read it over before or after you play is up to you.
Year Walk is spectacular, and, true to Simogo style — even if it is different to the developer's previous games — unlike anything we've ever played before. It might be a little premature to say so, but we're of the opinion that it'll be our favourite mobile game of 2013.