Short, but oh so sweet
Games rarely respect a player’s time. It could be due to padding out an experience with useless side-activities. Perhaps a developer decides that the traversal of an open world needs to forgo fun for a sense of realism. Even when games do respect the little time most players have to spend in a day, pacing can be detrimental to an experience. A Short Hike delivers not just what the title promises, it exceeds all expectations you might have by respecting the choices you make as a player. You are free to explore the tiny island in any way you see fit. Along the way you might ride a boat, participate in a race, glide along the winds and maybe even shed a tear. It’s a zen-like experience that might not last you hours, but will certainly leave you smiling.
A Short Hike sees you controlling Claire, a blackbird who is staying with her aunt May for a few days at a provincial park home to the large Hawk Peak. It is said that the view on top of Hawk Peak is magnificent, but Claire decides to make the short hike to the top hoping to receive reception on her cellphone to answer a call she’s waiting for. On your way there you meet a cast of delightful and quirky characters that present you with requests, gifts and stories of their own. It’s these fleeting interactions that are at the heart of A Short Hike. Some characters are just enjoying the scenery and provide some context for the sights you visit along the way, while others have their own little arcs that play out as you get to know them better.
The gameplay in A Short Hike is rather simple. As you proceed and explore the park, you collect golden feathers that allow you to increase your movement. Each golden feather gives Claire an additional jump and also increases the duration of climbing and sprinting. At any point after a jump you are also able to glide by holding down the button. This system takes a little bit of getting used to, but once you get the hang of it you’ll be gliding from the highest peaks all the way down to the bottom of the island. It is a great feeling, especially after you collect a few golden feathers and are able to perform additional jumps mid-glide to reach even higher places. Hidden all over the park are treasure chests, coins and all sorts of collectibles. Some unlock shortcuts to other parts of the island, others are tradable for upgrades like Golden Feathers and some even unlock minigames like fishing and beach-stick-ball.
The presentation is top-notch. The game uses a visual style that reminded me a lot of the first wave of original DS games, mixed with an aesthetic you might find in Animal Crossing. From the wind blowing through the trees to the waves passing through the water, everything on the island is designed to make you feel right at home. The mountain peaks are inviting you at every corner to climb around and discover all sorts of little secrets. All the while you are accompanied by a lovely soundtrack that embodies the environments you are exploring. From cozy hilltops to frozen peaks, everything in A Short Hike fits like a glove. There is a sense of adventure, but also comfort while you are out there discovering hidden spots and talking to all sorts of creatures on your journey. While every other speaking character you encounter might be an animal, every connection along the way feels so human.
I find it hard to put into words why A Short Hike connects with me so much. Perhaps it’s because the game feels like the nearly perfect embodiment of what games can be. Not every title you play needs to be about racking up the highest score, defeating other players, performing the best or brutally murdering any monster standing in your way. Some games can and should be about the quiet things in life. Just experiencing the joy of finding your way around a park and learning how all the little roads and mountains intertwine to create a perfect whole. I feel like I am always welcome when playing A Short Hike. I can hike to the mountaintop again or talk to other visitors. I am not required to collect all of the golden feathers or to find every single coin, but they are there if I choose to do so. I can just be there and enjoy what is being presented to me.
A Short Hike is a game I can recommend to anyone without hesitation. It’s perfect for new players, looking to play something for a short while, but also respects experienced players by giving them the freedom to play the game however they choose. The charm the game brings to the table is reason enough for me to return time and time again to this world. It’s a feel-good zenlike game and I’m so incredibly happy that I can now return to this world at any time on the Switch. Finally it is only A Short Hike away.