A Short Hike (2019)
Updated: Nov 16, 2019
Developer: Adam Robinson-yu
Changing my review schedule to bi-weekly has given me an opportunity to better plan what games to tackle next on my backlog. With less pressure to finish games quickly, I finally got around to taking some time to slowly explore the precious little word of A Short Hike. I actually started playing it way earlier this year when I got it via the Humble Bundle special, but I kept putting off finishing it due to new games popping up. A Short Hike is a 3D exploration adventure game about hiking to the top of a mountain.
There's such a vast world to explore in A Short Hike for a seemingly small game; every time I started to play it to review that week I would think "I need more time with this". I finally set aside some time to really dig deep, and it was a worthwhile and immersive experience. You play as a young bird, Claire, who is staying at park her Aunt May, the park ranger. Claire seems a little reserved and withholding at first, staying indoors for a large part of the day waiting for a call. Aunt May tells her there's no signal here at all, but there might be signal at Hawk Peak, the top of the mountain. There's something weighing heavily on Claire and it's clear it has to do with this "call" she's waiting for. Since there's no signal, you decide to go for a hike to Hawk Peak. Along the way, you meet some interesting characters, some in need of your help and some willing to teach you new abilities. These silly animal characters are often also hiking, running, and climbing their way around the mountain.
Often times I try to avoid describing games by referencing more well-known games, but I feel like I can confidently describe A Short Hike as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild meets Animal Crossing. The exploration feels pretty limitless, especially as you gain the ability to climb, run, and glide further. I thought it would be a fairly short adventure, but there's so much to do and find along the way. In order to progress to the very top, however, you need acquire golden feathers to essentially increase your stamina. The top of the mountain also gets really cold, which makes it more difficult to continue climbing and recover your stamina. What starts as a free-spirited exploration becomes a challenging and arduous hike that only a few characters in the game seem to be prepared for.
The Animal Crossing of A Short Hike plays a part in the silly and strange interactions with the characters. Besides your Aunt May, you don't seem to know anyone else in this park. Most are willing to help you out and advice you on the path ahead, but others are hostile, such as one fellow who is indignant about you joining their "climbing club". I took the time to try to accomplish every side quest with each of these characters, often times resulting in hearing a more personal story from them. Each character has their own reason for being out here, making their way around and up the mountain. As you continue climbing further up, Claire seems more determined to make it to Hawk's Peak, despite the challenges. Once you are actually at the top, you understand more about her personal struggle. It's an emotional moment I won't give away, but really an appropriate climax to this self-guided journey and it resonated strongly with me.
A Short Hike was a surprisingly peaceful and immersive experience, when I expected it to be much more linear and short. The soundtrack is beautiful, reminding me of a Ghibli movie taking place far away from any city. The 3D art has a low-poly aesthetic that looks fairly simple, but works well to show a vivid and natural world. All the mechanics seem very straightforward, but you end up finding a lot of items that can change your journey around this setting.
A Short Hike is a game you can escape to for a moment of peace and freedom. It manages to be adorable and lighthearted while also portraying a complex protagonist with real flaws and worries. It's a relatable story of how nature can serve as therapy from the stress and trouble of the world, and how overcoming a personal challenge can fill you with a very intrinsic sense of pride. It's actually not that "short" of a hike, it's really as long as you want it to be. I recommend this sweet and surprisingly emotional adventure to anyone, especially those who enjoy taking the time fully explore and take every path along the way.
A Short Hike is available on PC.
Played on: PC
Playtime: 4 hrs