To call A Short Hike endearing would be an understatement. Developed by Adam Robinson-Yu, and released in 2019, A Short Hike is a bite-sized indie masterpiece that offers a truly one of a kind whimsical exploration experience with a measured dose of real. As someone who typically enjoys longer games, I wasn’t certain that A Short Hike would really be right for me as it can be explored in-depth and finished over the span of an afternoon. I decided to give it a whirl nevertheless, and I’m beyond glad that I did.
You play as Claire, a bluebird on vacation with her Aunt May at Hawk Peak Provincial Park, where Aunt May works as a ranger. While there, Claire is expecting an important phone call, but there’s one problematic caveat– the only place with clear reception is at the very top of Hawk Peak. This is what leads Claire on her titular short hike.
Although your role is to reach the summit, the true pleasures in A Short Hike are found along the way. As you journey through the park you can swim, jog, and fly through every nook and cranny (and there are a lot of nooks and crannies) you meet a colorful cast of critters that will offer side quests and often deeply human commentary. A Short Hike invites you to do nothing. It encourages you to revel in doing nothing.
As far as gameplay is concerned, A Short Hike is about as low pressure as it gets. You there no enemies, nor timers, and you cannot fail. Even if you fall off a mountain or from a building, you can fly and land gently on the forest floor. All quests aside from reaching the summit are optional, and you can even do that at your own pace. Perhaps you’d like to spend some time fishing? Or maybe you’ll play a few games of beachstickball, a cute volleyball inspired minigame that’s a little trickier than it looks. The controls are very simple in A Short Hike, and it’s one of the few PC games that could be played in its entirety without a mouse. If you have the option, however, I would actually recommend playing it with a controller– it feels much more smooth, and this is coming from someone who typically eschews using controllers with PC games!
A Short Hike also has a neat stamina system represented by golden feathers. These feathers create a stamina bar of sorts that allows Claire to jog, flap her wings, and climb up steep mountain faces. You can collect up to 20 feathers in the game to increase your stamina. You can try collecting all the feathers or challenge yourself to complete your hike with as few feathers as possible.
In many aspects, one could easily draw comparisons between A Short Hike and the Animal Crossing franchise. They’re stylistically very similar, have low-pressure gameplay, and kind, quirky characters.
The sheer beauty of A Short Hike cannot be understated. While they may not be for everyone, I found the low poly graphics to be endearingly warm and vibrant and reminiscent of games from my youth. There’s something truly breathtaking about gliding through the park and taking in all the sights. The game also has a magnificent soundtrack by Mark Sparling that grows and evolves depending on your location on the island in addition to the activities you choose to partake in.
A Short Hike is as short as you want it to be. You could probably blast through the main story in under an hour, but to do that is to miss many of the calm, sweet moments this game has to offer. Set the notions of completionism that many of us feel while playing video games aside, and just enjoy the ride. It is a phenomenal little experience with unexpected depth and wholesome, memorable moments throughout. If you’re looking for a game to play on a relaxing afternoon, or for a sort of virtual palate cleanser, I would absolutely recommend checking out A Short Hike.
A Short Hike is available on Steam, the Epic Games Store, and itch.io for $7.99 and can be played on Windows, MacOS and Linux.