Backlog Review: A Short Hike (Switch)

Short but sweet.

By Achi Ikeda. Posted 12/02/2020 03:09 Comment on this     ShareThis
The Final Grade
grade/score info
1-Up Mushroom for...
Heartwarming stress relief; free roaming exploration; entertaining, well-done mechanics
Poison Mushroom for...
Occasionally awkward changes in camera position; occasionally awkward controls; a short experience leaving you wanting more

Welcome to our latest Backlog Review, where we look at relatively recent game releases and determine whether or not they’re worthy of a playthrough.

Sometimes stressful situations seemingly come out of nowhere and there is nothing to do but wait for the outcome be it good news or bad. While waiting, you could anxiously twiddle your thumbs or, the healthier option, go for a short hike. That’s exactly what you do in the 3D adventure game A Short Hike created by Adam Robinson-Yu. Despite that premise, A Short Hike is nothing but a wholesome, heartwarming delight. There are fun characters, sweet moments, and many thoughtful details such as a caring “personal message” to the player, which I won’t spoil.

The story is easily summed up as short and sweet as Claire, the main character, makes her way up and around the island to the summit of Hawk’s Peak. The initial motivation for Claire’s hike is that the peak is the only spot on the entire island with cell phone reception and she is awaiting an important phone call. This is soon forgotten as you the player are drawn into the picturesque pixelated scenery and the charming anthropomorphic characters. Though the story is over shortly after Claire makes her way to the summit, how long that takes, what path you take, what activities you do, and who you interact with on your way up will make each player’s experience with the game unique. The game is driven by player curiosity and desire to explore. There are no sour moments here and the game is sure to lift your spirits as you make your way up the peak.

Each character you meet along the way is unique and some have more to say than others. Character interaction and exploration make up a big part of the gameplay, and both reward you either with new items that interact with the environment, like a fishing pole, or with gold feathers. Each additional gold feather means Claire can flap her wings one more time, essentially an additional double-jump, or climb vertically for a longer period of time. These items and upgrades in turn lead to more exploration and curiosity-led backtracking.

Characters may also bring childhood nostalgia. There’s the boredom of a kid hoping to go on a boat ride, the newly invented game of beachstickball, and parkour races with the bird Avery. Racing Avery is a giddy kind of fun. Despite the top down view of each race, I felt like a kid again as I would race Avery multiple times and experiment with new strategies. Sure Avery will give you prizes for beating her in different races, but they weren’t the motivation for the race. The races themselves are fun. An added benefit is that Avery learns from you and copies your previous route making her more difficult to beat each time.

Races with Avery also demonstrate another aspect to this game that I love- the gameplay. I consider a game to be truly good when just the gameplay itself is satisfying. If there are no characters, story, or tasks, is the game still fun? In the case of A Short Hike, yes it totally is. Within the game, Claire can run, climb, jump, fly, and drive a boat around. Claire needs no reason, it’s just fun! I found flying especially enjoyable. The controls are so easy to pick up that even a first time gamer would have little trouble playing this game. However, there are a few issues that can be confusing or make navigation difficult.

First off, there are limited camera controls. The camera is in a relatively fixed location that is dependent on where Claire is on the island. This means the player cannot move the camera to get a better look around. While on the ground, this is fine, but while flying the camera may suddenly completely change angles thereby disrupting your flight direction. There is also no map whatsoever. Though you may find the lack of map enjoyable. I mostly enjoyed this as it makes the island feel larger and requires the player to make a mental map. It also makes exploration, in my opinion, more fun and realistic even though the drawback is that it can sometimes be difficult to remember where places or characters are relative to Claire.

After completing the game, you can continue to explore the island. There isn’t much replay value. From what I can tell, almost all character interactions would occur in the same way as there are not really any dialogue options. After completion, the game does offer a speedrun clock for those interested.

The cherry on top is the game’s relaxing soundtrack by Mark Sparling. It perfectly sets the atmosphere and will sound similar to those familiar with the Zelda series and the animated film studio Studio Ghibli. Not only are the songs fitting, but the soundtrack is adaptive, meaning it changes depending on what Claire is doing and where she is. This really fits well with the player driven gameplay.

Though A Short Hike doesn’t bring much new to the table (many elements will feel similar to Journey, Celeste, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Animal Crossing, or Stardew Valley), the game combines familiar mechanics so well that A Short Hike, despite a few small drawbacks, is a well put together, relaxing game you shouldn’t miss out on.

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