Adamgryu‘s exploration adventure game A Short Hike brings a warm and fuzzy feeling to everyone who longs for a vacation.
A Short Hike (PC)
(Canada 2019, developer/publisher: Adamgryu, platforms: PC, Nintendo Switch)
Young bird Claire travels to Hawk Peak Provincial Park to visit her aunt and resident ranger May, setting herself the goal to reach the top of a mountain in order to find good reception for her phone to call her mother.
Despite not offering a linear or branching storyline, the premise of being close to nature, far removed from the hectic city life, and climbing a mountain, while exploring the area is enough to keep the player going. There’s still some surprising depth behind this simple idea, but it would ruin much of the emotional impact if one would delve further into it.
Suffice it to say that the game perfectly captures the sense of being on vacation and going on an adventure in a setting that doesn’t throw too many obstacles in the way. While there are some melancholy themes, violence or darker scenes aren’t part of the equation. Far from it, as one simply walks or runs around the natural park at one’s own leisure and talks to its various visitors.
Making new friends
Even if all characters are animals, just as in the Animal Crossing games, this doesn’t mean one can’t identify with them. Everyone is memorable and doesn’t rely too much on the cuteness usually associated with them, as can be seen with an artist who tries to get her work done for an exhibition while trying to find her own voice and having more self-esteem. But there are also some characters who enjoy the simple things of life, like a frog lying on the beach and ruminating about how wonderful a good breakfast can be.
Having and taking time
Not being forced to do anything in a strict time limit, with the only aim to reach the top of the mountain, one can explore as much as one likes. One still has to collect gold feathers in order to progress, though, as these are necessary to boost endurance when climbing or making jumps.
At least 7 of these are required to make it to the top, but it’s easy to acquire them, either by finding them in the environment, buying them from two merchants with coins that have to be collected first, or by completing small quests for people/animals. The climb also becomes more difficult, as the cold soon freezes Claire’s feathers, therefore reducing her stamina which can only be filled by bathing in a hotspring.
Meeting and greeting people with small job opportunities
Encountering people on the way and doing small favors for them never feels like a drag, as even picking up 15 shells for a collector has quite a funny result. Sometimes one can also receive special items, e.g. running shoes which help to move around faster, although again depending on one’s endurance meter for how long.
Simply talking to all these people is a joy, as they ooze personality, e.g. the rock climbing society that only comprises two persons and one of them claiming it’s a world-wide organization or two characters who have invented a new sort of game called beachstickball one can play with them.
In other games, side-quests usually take up a lot of time and are very repetitive, but here it’s all part of the experience, as can be seen when fishing with one character who tells Claire that being patient and waiting for something has its benefits. In a way, all activities, including the mountain climb, seem superficial or mundane at first, but they subtly work as metaphors for life’s struggles and self-expression without being too didactic. At the end of the adventure, telling Claire’s aunt what one did during the whole day makes it feel all the more rewarding.
A park full of adventure
Even without a map, one rarely feels lost, as there are always signposts showing directions, while characters give useful hints as well. While one doesn’t have to do everything in order to reach the end of the game, one still wants to discover as many secrets as possible and make people and oneself happy, and if it’s only to participate in a short racing segment across the park to make a wanna-be marathon runner believe in herself. Gliding through the air and having a different look from up high also never gets old or any less fun.
Looks and sounds of nature
The graphics are a bit too pixelated, even if one can adjust the pixel size, and there are a few camera problems, too. Still, the art design is lovely, especially of the characters and the vibrant colors used for the environments. There are also some nice weather effects like falling rain and snow that add to the atmosphere.
Despite not featuring any voice acting, the game has some varied and wonderfully soothing music, complemented by ambient sounds, like waves clashing, wind blowing, birds chirping, in addition to distant rain and thunder, so that one becomes easily lost in nature.
A walk and climb to remember
A Short Hike only lasts one hour, but it’s much more rewarding than many longer games. One feels to be on a vacation and a real adventure, but without the usual twists and turns, especially the over-dramatic exposition and talkative characters one has become used to.
Despite not featuring puzzles in the traditional sense, it’s still a true adventure game that oozes charme with its characters, a heartfelt story and amazing sound design. But what is even more important: One just doesn’t want to leave the park and if one does, one will have some very pleasant memories that are difficult to put in words or a score.
Buy the game for Nintendo Switch on
the Nintendo eShop