When I stumbled across A Short Hike, I expected little from it. I thought the game would simply be an adorable adventure. However, it’s much more. A Short Hike is a refreshing experience that fills you with serenity through its quirky characters, mesmerizing scenery, and engaging activities.
Story – Reaching New Heights
One of the best qualities of A Short Hike is its uncomplicated storyline.
A bird named Claire visits Hawk Peak Provincial Park for the summer and decides to take a hike up Hawk Peak Trail to get cellphone reception. Several hikers warn her of the treacherous journey ahead. Of course, the advice doesn’t stop the spry, young bird from trying to reach the mountain’s summit.
Along the way, Claire speaks with hikers working through their trials and tribulations. For example, a painter goes through a creative block that leaves him questioning his talent. You also meet a bird struggling to pay for his college tuition. Interactions like these make A Short Hike’s story unique compared to most cute animal games.
Gameplay – A Chill Walk in the Park
A Short Hike’s gameplay centers on dialogue and exploration. That may sound boring to some, but I promise it’s rewarding. Curiosity always gets the best of me, so it was a blast to seek new characters and areas! There’s no need to converse with every character or see the entire land to complete the game, though you’d be missing out on a lot. The amount of explorative freedom is incredible, and there’s much to discover in Hawk Peak Provincial Park.
Explore to Your Heart’s Content!
Since the game’s primary focus is exploration, various outdoor activities are encouraged. Running, flying, and climbing require golden feathers, which increase Claire’s stamina. Likewise, silver feathers increase the bird’s speed. These feathers are strewn across the park in obscure places. You can also buy or earn them from NPCs. The silver feathers aren’t necessary to complete your mission, but the gold ones are. Claire will run out of energy the second all her golden feathers turn black, which is inconvenient while climbing a tall mountain.
Luckily, you can also glide, fish, and dig without worrying about stamina. Gliding is my favorite activity. It’s the most exhilarating since you literally have a bird’s-eye view of the entire park. There’s nothing more liberating than making giant loops in the air!
Digging is handy for coin collection. You can use coins to buy things, like golden feathers and adorable hats. Stars indicate digging spots, which is one of the many references to the Animal Crossing franchise in this game.
Even the fishing mechanics are like Animal Crossing! After casting your line, you must wait until the bobber sinks to reel a fish in. You can also sell fish to the pelican that sits on his boat docked at sea. This Gulliver-look-alike exchanges coins for fish you’ve caught for the first time. Then, he’ll give you bait for the same kinds of fish afterward. I adore how the creator, Adam Robinson-Yu, shows his appreciation for Animal Crossing through his distinctive style.
You Gotta Love the Dialogue
The relatability and hilarity of A Short Hike’s dialogue got me hooked on the gameplay. Conversations between characters don’t seem forced and flow naturally. Robinson-Yu also excels at balancing humor with heavy subjects, delivering a unique charm that sticks with you after the game ends.
I giggled a lot while playing this game because each character’s dialogue has loads of personality. I laughed the hardest at a cat caught setting up camp without a permit. His reaction is priceless, but I can’t properly explain how funny it is without spoiling the entire dialogue. The developer sprinkled hilarious moments like this throughout A Short Hike, and playing the game is the best way to relish their brilliance.
Aside from the fantastic sense of humor, I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of some conversations. I wasn’t prepared for discussions about heavy topics, like self-doubt and self-confidence. Both struggles are relatable to several people, including me. The relatability is yet another reason to love A Short Hike.
The Few Problems
Hawk Peak Provincial Park is a vast area to trek, but the creator doesn’t overwhelm you with mechanics. You effortlessly learn such things by playing at your own pace, making the gaming experience relaxing. The controls are generally smooth and straightforward, so you’ll grasp them quickly as well.
A Short Hike’s controls are close to perfection but fall short on a few things. The camera is one problem. You have minimal control over it, so looking at your surroundings in the distance is impossible.
Claire also drifts to the side while climbing sometimes. This flaw was particularly irritating when climbing a lighthouse, as I had to be extra cautious with my stamina. Thankfully, that only happened a few times.
Now for my least favorite part about the game: there’s no formal map of the entire park. You can grab a compass from one of the characters. But if your sense of direction is as poor as mine, you’ll have difficulty remembering where things are. You can find fan-made park maps online, but it would be nice to get one from the Visitor Center. Although these frustrations are noticeable, they don’t compromise the gameplay.
Graphics and Sound – A Feast for Your Eyes and Ears
A Short Hike’s graphics are highly praiseworthy. They’re simple, but there’s a charm in that simplicity. You can also change the pixilation of the picture if you’d like. There’s the option of having bigger pixels, which makes the game look more grainy, or you can make the display look smoother with smaller pixels. I prefer the look of smaller pixels, but the game is still aesthetically pleasing with bigger ones.
The environmental beauty bursts with vivid colors. For example, shades of green and orange mark the seasonal change from summer to autumn. The blue hues of the ocean also grow darker depending on the depth of the water. One of my favorite aspects of the setting is the white streaks of wind that appear throughout the game. This detail elevated the game’s ambiance by enhancing the fact that you’re traversing a mountainous region.
The proximity details in the sound design also add a nice touch to the game’s atmosphere. When you approach a campfire, it becomes louder. The same goes for moving bodies of water. These elements of sound design made me feel more engrossed in the game!
Another outstanding feature is the adaptive soundtrack. The composer, Mark Sparling, created an amazing album that cues different songs for specific actions and sections of the park. For example, when Claire soars across the sky, string instruments become the stars of the soundtrack. Meanwhile, trumpets take center stage when Claire rides the motorboat. It’s remarkable how the music perfectly matches the dynamism of the gameplay.
A Short Hike was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with a key provided by Adamgryu.