A Short Hike, developed by Canadian indie developer Adam Robinson-Yu, is a game that I had kept hearing about since its original release on April 5th, 2019. Whether it was through countless tweets I saw online or even on some of my favourite podcasts, most recently being the games feature on The Lag, a podcast run by Olly Smith and Alex Dewing from New Game+, it seemed I couldn’t escape this title.
With COVID-19 restrictions beginning to lift in Ireland, I had planned a small trip away with a few friends to the west of Ireland for the first time in 18 months. This was to be one final hurrah before we all ventured down different paths after concluding our college degrees. After seeing the game’s apt title, and hearing the glowing reviews from the crew over at New Game+, I just knew it was the right time to hop in!
The beautiful thing about A Short Hike is its simplistic yet engaging narratives. You play as Claire, a young bird who has gone to Hawk Provincial Park for the summer to stay with her Aunt May, a local park ranger. As you travel the island you’ll bump into and meet various other island inhabitants, all of which have extremely lovable and infectious personalities and stories. Well … all except for one character, another bird who has been buying up all the golden feathers (an item which greatly improves your ability to traverse the island and mountain) at the local visitor centre and selling them for a hugely inflated price. Granted, if you dig a little deeper there is a sympathetic tale behind this character’s shady dealings that, whilst it didn’t make me totally ok with his practices, it certainly made me pity him a lot more.
The main plotline of the game revolves around Claire’s journey to the top of the Hawk Peak Trail in an attempt to get cell phone reception as she’s due an important call. The journey itself may have the same conclusion each time you play but the various paths you can take and the plethora of characters you interact with always ensure you’ll have an enjoyable and wholesome experience.
The story offers a large level of freedom to the player and, for the most part, you’re left to your own devices. In most games, this would daunt me, but given the game’s easy-to-understand mechanics and general lack of punishment for messing up on any given task, I found myself just enjoying the freedom the game gave me. It’s noted in the games press kit that Adam was:
inspired by summer hiking trips and exploring forests in his youth’ and ‘wanted to create something that could evoke those same feelings of peace and discovery.
This pitch is a spot-on description for the gameplay in A Short Hike, as I found myself exploring the vast landscape of Hawk Provincial Park and beyond without really worrying about where I was going or if it was in the right direction.
The gameplay elements that you pick up along the way are also fantastically integrated into the main story, with each tutorial being presented in a tongue-in-cheek fashion by the island’s inhabitants. Whether it’s to explain the use of the golden feathers, how to climb up steep parts of the mountain, or how to use the running shoes and other equipment, this is all explained in a simple and easy-to-understand way. This means you’re not bogged down trying to remember which button does what, and can really enjoy the peaceful beauty of the game.
GRAPHICS & VISUALS
Running on the Unity Engine, A Short Hike looks stunning with its simplistic, adorable art style. It’s no surprise that, in line with the game’s already extremely wholesome dialogue, the graphical settings would contain only two options for pixel size throughout the game, those being ‘big and crunchy’ and ‘small and tasty’. Both settings are perfectly fine to play on and you won’t lose any of the beauty of the title with either.
I’m sure for the most part Adam is probably sick of people comparing this title’s art style to that of Animal Crossing, but I can assure you when I say that I mean it as the utmost compliment. The art style itself blends so seamlessly with the story and the audio that it creates the very pitch the game set out to capture, which is this peaceful walk similar to the ‘summer hiking trips’ Adam went on when he was younger.
AUDIO & MUSIC
A great game is nothing without great sound design, and A Short Hike is no different. When the project itself began to pick up Mark Sparling came on as the game’s composer and his work on the game’s soundtrack is simply phenomenal!
The soundtrack itself encapsulates a sense of tranquillity, hope, and mystery that beautifully synergise together to create a distinctly familiar, yet unique sound. In a conversation with composer and YouTuber, Scruffy, Mark mentioned that he was heavily inspired by Joe Hisaishi, a composer for the well-renowned Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli, and the inspiration shines through in the soundtrack. Another inspiration for the game’s music was Animal Crossing. This inspiration is apparent not only in the musical score of the game but also in the sound design as well. Mark noted in the discussion that
Animal Crossing just does sparse ambient music so well. There isn’t anything specific that I can point to in the soundtrack and say “this is from Animal Crossing,” but I was listening to the New Leaf soundtrack pretty much every day while writing.
This fantastic musical score, coupled with the immaculate and reassuring audio design, is a stand-out feature of the title.
Overall, A Short Hike managed to engross me in its world from start to finish. It presented its characters in a compelling and interesting way, and told a simple yet effective story that most high-budget games often struggle to do.
Given the positive experience I had with this game, I’ll definitely be checking out some more of Adam’s work and I’d definitely recommend everyone else do the same. A Short Hike retails for only €6.59 on Steam and €6.99 on the Nintendo eShop and it regularly goes on sale.
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Reviewed on: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Adam Robinson-Yu
Publisher: Adam Robinson-Yu