by September 2, 2020 @ 9:23 am
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch
There’s a beauty to the simplicity of A Short Hike from developer adamgryu. The game doesn’t waste time — neither its time nor the player’s time — with extravagant controls and mechanics. It doesn’t task you with endless objectives or a massive open world to get lost in. The game encourages exploration, yes, but more than that, it encourages meditation. That makes A Short Hike not just a beauty of a game, but also something you may not have known you needed. The result is the most wonderful game of its kind since 2012’s Journey.
Climb and Contemplate
You play as Claire, a walking, talking bird who makes it a goal to climb to the top of Hawk Peak Provincial Park. At the start of the game, Claire is expecting an urgent call but doesn’t get any reception on her phone. She seems nervous, distracted, and anxious. It’s obvious that the call is important to her. You immediately meet Claire’s park ranger aunt, who encourages Claire to explore the hiking trails and canyons. Claire opts to go for it, and the ensuing adventure is memorable, delightful, and, above all else, thoughtful.
Progression in A Short Hike is simple: All you have to do is climb. It’s the little experiences you have in between and the characters you meet along the way, though, that really make that climb special. You meet a kid who wants you to retrieve a bunch of seashells. You befriend a quirky character who’s created an offshoot of volleyball called “beachstickball.” (And yes, you get to play beachstickball.) You’ll even find a shifty dude who sells useful items at an unreasonable price because he needs the money for college.
The main takeaway across all the character interactions is the human experience — even if the NPCs are all anthropomorphic animals. Each personality you encounter is unique. Some are lighthearted and cheery. Others are just enjoying their time at Hawk Peak Provincial Park. Then there are those battling anxiety and dealing with their own concerns. Just like in real life, you’ll meet folks from all walks of life in A Short Hike, and they shape your experience and your outlook.
The character interactions are a major part of the game, but so is the actual hiking gameplay. You’ll walk up trails, encounter branching paths, and find vantage points. Steep climbs will require the use of golden feathers, which allow Claire to scale more vertical spots as well as flap her wings to perform multi-jumps. Without these golden feathers, you won’t be able to make it to the very top of Hawk Peak. Thankfully, you’ll naturally come across a few along the way, and you’ll meet characters (like the aforementioned shifty dude) who will gladly sell you a few.
You’ll hike, climb, multi-jump, swim, and glide your way through Hawk Peak Provincial Park. These mechanics all work well, and their simplicity makes for a very relaxing experience. It’s incredibly cathartic just making your way up the trails. There’s an Animal Crossing-esque vibe to the relaxed flow of A Short Hike, though thanks to the characters, Claire herself, dialogue, and the simple act of hiking, you’ll experience a more meditative adventure here.
For all of its simplicity, A Short Hike thrives on mechanics and controls that feel really good. Like Journey, Abzu, and Celeste, the game lives and breathes on its ability to make you feel something while playing it. It’s a very positive experience, and it’s so meditative that it’s possible you’ll find yourself reflecting on your own personal struggles, accomplishments, goals, and anxieties while playing.
As someone who deals with a bit of anxiety, playing A Short Hike didn’t try to force me to forget about the stuff that brings me grief, but it allowed me to tuck it away and just enjoy the hike. While playing, I was able to reflect, contemplate, meditate, and relax. The simple actions, coupled with the outdoor setting, allowed me to enjoy the virtual hike the game offers.
The Great Outdoors, Looking Inward
A Short Hike features a really cool pixelated 3D look. You’re essentially in one large location, but seeing that location evolve as you climb Hawk Peak is great. The game looks both simple and stylish, and its world comes to life thanks to the combination of pixels and colors used to animate each area of the park.
The sounds of A Short Hike are in line with the gameplay and visual design. They’re fittingly simple and serene. There will even be times when you really get a good climb in and some cheery little anthems play, seemingly pushing you to continue on with your challenging hike.
You can get through A Short Hike in two hours tops. You’ll spend a little more time if you go off the main path, take the time to explore, and help other characters out. While two hours isn’t very long, the game doesn’t need to be any longer than that to be effective and completely mesmerizing. That said, I could’ve totally seen myself playing A Short Hike for five, ten, even twenty hours, and I look forward to revisiting Hawk Peak Provincial Park.
Though it’s been available on PC for a little over a year, there’s just no getting around the fact that A Short Hike came around on Switch at just the right time. It’s the perfect outdoor simulation for the lockdown era. But don’t let that take away from the fact that A Short Hike is just a really awesome game worth checking out regardless of whether you’re actively staying inside these days. It’s a meditative journey that just feels nice. Honestly, I hope you’ll play it.
Score: 9 out of 10
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