At its heart, A Short Hike is a simple game. You take on the role of Claire, a bird who is visiting Hawk Peak Provincial Park with her aunt. Unable to give up the modern technology that she is accustomed to, Claire decides to climb the park’s mountain. After all, this is the only place where she will be able to get a cell phone signal. Thus starts a little trek through the environment as you attempt to reach the summit.
If all that charm and innocence sounds enticing to you then A Short Hike is likely to be a game you will adore. Everything about it seems to have been designed to rate highly on the cute scale. Whether it is the gorgeous little island you explore or the adorable little bird you control, you can’t escape it. Yet, A Short Hike also manages to make a strong impact and be memorable.
The work of Adam Robinson-Yu, A Short Hike does not set you tasks or force you to do anything. Instead, it gives you a freedom that is unusual in video games. In a medium where you are constantly given objectives to complete and items to collect, A Short Hike stands out. That’s mainly because it doesn’t ask you to do anything. You are left to your own devices, to find your own fun in a world designed for you to explore. It is an enjoyable, relaxing break compared to many other titles you’ve likely played in recent times.
Walking simulators have become ever more popular in recent years. While they share many characteristics with adventure games, they usually stop short of including many mechanics. The main thing that links them all is that they have a strong focus on narrative and exploration. They generally also use the first-person perspective and have a serious or intellectual plot. A Short Hike bucks some of those trends.
For starters, it is played from a third-person perspective. There’s also a lot more in the way of mechanics than is generally present in walking simulators. Then, of course, you can mention the fact that it isn’t exactly as serious as other games in the genre.
The main mechanics in the game involve climbing and gliding. Finding golden feathers provides you with the ability to get higher up the mountain more quickly. Gliding around makes it easier to get around the park. It also lets you see the many shortcuts and connections between the different locations. A fishing mechanic also lets you catch a variety of different fish. However, nothing changes the formula so much as to make the title anything other than a walking simulator.
A Short Hike also features several other animals scattered throughout the park. They have a variety of tasks that you can complete for them, which usually requires collecting an item. Almost all of them can be missed. This ensures that you can continue to play at your own pace without worrying about progress being blocked. The few puzzles you have to solve are not too taxing either. Although they provide some challenge, they don’t distract from allowing you to travel around as you see fit.
One of the best things about A Short Hike is that the developers have put a lot of effort into making the world interesting. Even though there are not that many characters, they are compelling. Each has its own story to tell and plenty of funny lines of dialogue.
Mark Sparling is behind the soundtrack and he has done a wonderful job. Music can play a huge role in games like this. It needs to be soothing and intriguing, helping to tell the story in place of other traditional story elements. The soundtrack does this exceptionally well. In fact, it is so good that you might even find yourself listening to it outside of the game.
The other main part of the presentation is the visuals. They are nothing fancy but do the job well enough. There are a few different types of environments to explore and each looks distinctive. Stylistically, the visuals have a sort of scrapbook quality that helps the characters ooze charm.
What is enjoyable about A Short Hike is that it doesn’t put any pressure on you. While you need to collect some feathers to make it to the top of the mountain, there are no-fail conditions.
If you want to spend a dozen hours investigating every inch of Hawk Peak Provincial Park, then you can. It is possible to finish the game in just an hour or so as well.
The choice is up to you and that encapsulates what A Short Hike is all about. Giving you choice. Don’t expect it to be a game that you will come back to time and time again though.