Review – A Short Hike (PS4)
Being a professional game reviewer, you have to play a ton of games, and not all of them are winners. For many of them, you have a pretty good idea of what you’re getting yourself into when you decide to start playing. There are some that you’ll have high expectations for, only to be let down drastically. Most of the time it’s about navigating through a sea of mediocrity in order to find something interesting. Something that stands out from the rest in oversaturated genres. Then, every once in a great while, you’ll stumble across a rare gem that delights you. An unexpected diamond in the rough. A Short Hike from Canadian indie developer Adamgryu, is such a treasure.
Now I’ll be honest and admit that I had no real interest in playing this game at first. From the trailer it looked to be little more than a slice of life game, which isn’t really my cup of tea. I don’t typically find much satisfaction in tending to my crops and chopping down wood just because. I need to have more of a reason for doing things in a game. Hence the reason why I became so enamored with Spiritfarer.
I didn’t fall in love with that game solely because I had to cook different recipes and build new assets for my ship. No, the reason I found that game to be so special was because of the deeper connections I made with my passengers and the sense of loss I felt when they eventually moved on. The crafting and chores then became a cathartic backdrop to a larger, more meaningful story.
A Short Hike follows a slightly similar path to Spiritfarer in certain regard. Not because you’re ferrying souls to the afterlife or anything of that sort. I mean it is similar only in the way that underneath the cute and task-filled adventure is a tale of something more substantial. You play as Claire, a young bluebird who sets out to climb the highest mountain of the Hawk Peak Provincial Park in order to gain reception for her cell phone. On the surface the premise seems as shallow as a puddle, but there’s much more to discover about the island’s inhabitants and Claire herself than you would first expect.
How much you get out of A Short Hike depends greatly on how much time you put into it and how much you explore. You really only have one main objective: climb to the top of Hawk Peak so you can make a phone call. The title doesn’t lie either, this can be a very short game. If you stick to the main objective only, you can easily beat the entire game in less than hour. However, you probably won’t want to.
The island is full of adorable and humorous anthropomorphic citizens for you to engage with. Some will give you insights on the island, some will give you tips on how to be more successful in getting to harder to reach areas, and some will ask you for help with various problems. Think of it as Animal Crossing meets Breath of the Wild, with a rich world, fun characters, and captivating exploration. By agreeing to undertake tasks from the locals, you’ll learn more about the island and its inhabitants. These quests are what make A Short Hike such a rich game.
There are a variety of different tasks available to you when playing A Short Hike. One of the only mandatory objectives is to collect some Golden Feathers. These will allow Claire to climb parts of the mountain, acting as a stamina meter of sorts. The more she finds, the longer she can climb. She’ll need a bare minimum of seven Golden Feathers in order to climb the summit of Hawk Peak. Although, there are twenty in total, if you’re up for the challenge.
Other endeavors include watering the flowers all over the island to make them bloom and provide you with a handy spring board to quickly reach higher locations. There’s also parkour races, motorboat challenges, Beachstickball, collecting seashells, unearthing treasures in soft soil, treasure hunts, and more. I was genuinely shocked by the amount of quest variety offered in A Short Hike.
There’s even fishing, which shouldn’t be surprising considering the game takes place on an island. The fishing gameplay feels similar to what you’ll find in a The Legend of Zelda game, only much, much easier. This is a casual adventure, after all. You can trade fish in for coins, bait, a fishing journal, and eventually a Golden Rod which can be used to catch all the rare variants of fish. Much like in the Zelda games, for some reason I keep getting hooked on fishing (I’ll see myself out).
There are also some slightly more emotional missions as well, though none of them are tearjerkers. A rabbit racer is missing her lucky headband and needs to have it found. A ram has lost his precious wristwatch and needs you to get it back. An aspiring artist doesn’t believe in herself and your words can give her the encouragement she needs. It’s these mission in particular that add to the depth of A Short Hike. If you’re going to get the fullest experience, then it’s wise to help out everyone you can.
Aside from the numerous quests that you can entertain yourself with, a lot of the fun of A Short Hike comes from simply exploring. There are tons of secrets to find in every corner of Hawk Peak. It’s also a surprisingly beautiful, especially for its low-fi pixelated polygonal graphics. I will admit that the game does look less attractive when stretched out across a large screen, so I’d honestly recommend playing this on the Nintendo Switch in handheld mode if you can. Still, even if you don’t have access to a Switch, many of the environments are so wonderful and fantastically varied for such a small sandboxed game, that you’ll forgive the graphical imperfections before too long.
The soundtrack is on another level and absolutely elevates the gaming experience. Featuring an original score by Mark Sparling, this is one of those rare soundtracks that sticks with you. There is no voice acting and very minimal sound effects, so the musical score is really what carries the emotional tone. I’ve already added the soundtrack to my study playlist for future enjoyment.
I truly cannot recommend A Short Hike enough. The trailer is both misleading and yet also tells you exactly what you can expect. The experience you have and what you’ll get out of it is up to you. If you skimp on the side stuff and only focus on getting to the top of the mountain, then you’ll probably feel disappointed, especially since you can do so in under an hour. If you take your time fully exploring the island and helping the locals, then you’ll discovery a surprisingly rich and rewarding experience. A Short Hike is a journey you won’t soon forget.
It’s surprisingly beautiful, especially for its low-fi pixelated polygonal graphics. I would recommend playing on the Nintendo Switch in handheld mode though, so the pixels aren’t as stretched.
The controls are responsive and there is a shocking amount of variety to the missions and tasks you can partake in.
Mark Sparling’s soundtrack is phenomenal – one of the best I’ve heard in a while.
If you take your time, explore the whole island, and help the inhabitants when you can, you’ll find a rich and surprisingly rewarding experience.
Final Verdict: 9.0
A Short Hike is available now on PC, PS4, and Switch.
Reviewed on PS4.
A copy of A Short Hike was provided by the publisher.