A Short Hike might be aptly named, but over the hour and a bit adventure, it solidifies itself as a game-of-the-year contender. It’s a beautiful, whimsical tale, and one that resonates deeper in its short lifespan than most AAA games do over 40+ hours of storytelling.
There’s no pretence here, A Short Hike is about exactly that. Claire, our anthropomorphic bird hero, is visiting her Aunt May for a few days away from the grind of modern life. Claire, however, has an important phone call to take, and the tiny Archipelago that Aunt May calls home is void of phone signal, except for atop Hawk Peak, so Claire sets out to reach the summit to make her call.
The joys of A Short Hike are garnered through that cliché but appropriate adage; it’s not the destination, but the journey. Yes, you can blitz to the top of the peak in an hour and roll the end credits, but the sheer joy is gained from getting lost on the way up and falling in love with the endless lovely environments, the weird cast of characters, the sweet Easter Eggs – it’s the game’s DNA that sets it up on such a high pedestal.
Claire’s adventure is a relaxed affair, made up of some very basic platforming and a few great mini games to break up the climb. The controls are smooth and satisfying, from her basic movements to the fun gliding mechanism that allows you to grab some air and float around the snow-capped Hawk Peak. Along the way, you can collect Golden Feathers by completing little tasks for the animals of the island, such as basic fetch quests or challenging them to race. The more Golden Feathers you have, the further you can jump and the longer you can climb, as the feathers act as Claire’s stamina. Stay on land for a few seconds, and your stamina refills, unless you’re in the colder climates of the island where you need to find a heat source before your stamina builds back up.
Again, reaching the peak is not the important part of Claire’s journey, but rather interacting and exploring the island is what makes it such a wonderful experience. It wasn’t until after I’d finished the main story that I discovered the fishing side quest where, in true Animal Crossing style, you can collect 15 different species that litter the expansive sea, and the many ponds and rivers the game has to offer. Not long after my time as an amateur angler, I found the boat rental store, and for a measly 100 coins (the in-game currency, which can be found all over the island) I rented a speedboat and, albeit badly, took to the open seas and caught some waves.
The island is full of secrets, funny little things to discover, and heaps of character. There are treasure maps that, if you can decipher the riddles, you can find even more hidden curiosities. There’s a silly volleyball-esc game that you’ll be addicted to after the first round, and a myriad of different ways to make it up the peak. At no point in the adventure do you feel that you’re simply moving from A to B; it’s a feast of relaxing, well realised jubilation.
It’s also gorgeous. You can change the pixelation from the menu, so if you don’t like the chunky, blocky look you can smooth things out for a crispier appearance, but it does kind of take away some of the charm A Short Hike has. Either way, the isometric view of the little log cabins, the green pine trees, the cascading waters – it’s entirely a treat to look at.
Games ask a lot of us these days, and even ‘relaxing’ sims like Stardew Valley and Animal Crossing need our undying attention, especially to keep those weeds at bay. Sometimes, what we need is true escapism, a game with no consequences, one that asks nothing from us but offers so much. A Short Hike is all that – it’s a wonderful, entirely satisfying journey, and one that will stay with me for years to come.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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A Short Hike Review
Gameplay - 10/10
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 10/10
Replay Value - 10/10
User Review( votes)
A Short Hike is an outstanding adventure that says more in an hour and a half than most AAA games do over 40 hours.