It would be foolish to accuse A Short Hike of being over too soon: the clue is in the title. The game can be completed in a couple of hours if you rush through proceedings to reach the end of the journey, but in doing so you will miss the magic of one of the most enjoyable gaming experiences of recent times. A Short Hike is here to be savoured, and the island on which the game is set is filled with enough excursions to ensure that you can potentially find many hours of relaxed entertainment, if you look for it.
Set on a picturesque island inhabited with anthropomorphic animals, the main character under your control – Claire, a bird – is waiting for an important phone call, but her mobile phone signal is so poor that only the very tip of the mountain in the centre of the island is able to provide a clear reception. Hence, she must undertake the short hike of the title.
The game’s designer Adam Robinson-Yu has sprinkled the tale with the sentiments of Animal Crossing, and a micro-scale reinterpretation of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. There are multiple routes to the top of the mountain, and to help Claire reach her destination there are 20 feathers to find throughout the map (either in hard-to-reach locations or earned through achieving certain goals). Each feather increases her stamina, which is needed to ascend steep inclines. Indeed, such is the relaxed style of play evident in the game, that it is not necessary to find all 20 feathers; it is just an option for completists to pursue.
There is no risk in A Short Hike; no stats to be damaged or lives to be lost. The game invites exploration and experimentation, and wants to reward you for your time. Do not play with a sense of urgency: relish the moment. There are plenty of quirky characters to meet and chat to, and dialogue is rich in dry humour, often with a wink to the clichés of video gaming. There are too many animals to choose favourites from, but the raccoon drawing an abstract artwork of the beach (“It’s all about the mood of the beach, rather than the beach itself,” he says of his creation) is rather sweet, and the grey rhino climbing a rock wall is so fiercely protective of his rock-climbing club that his dialogue is written in capitals.
There are so many wonderful distractions in the game, that affirm the ability of video games to offer escapism. Some animals have lost personal objects and ask you to find them; others invite you to a competitive challenge: each has a story to tell. Various objects are added to your inventory throughout, including a spade to dig for hidden coins, a compass to help with your sense of direction, and a bucket; fill it with water, and you can feed certain flowers which then blossom to create bounce pads to further reaches.
If you are looking for some relaxation, a fishing rod can be used in the ponds and coastal waters. Different fish can be caught, and their species and size are recorded each time (I am yet to catch a short pike). A motorboat can be hired for 100 coins, which provides great fun at sea as it carves through the water. Scour the coastline and you may find the Beachstickball court: a variant of volleyball that rewards a feather if you manage to keep the ball in play for at least 10 hits back and forth. The animals playing with you are keen to mention that Beachstickball is not a game about winning or losing; it is about having fun.
Besides walking, climbing, or setting sail in a boat, Claire can swoop and glide in the breeze, and – with every activity she undertakes – the controls are effortless in their simplicity. These different modes of transport allow a view of the island from many perspectives, and it looks gorgeous however you look at it. Pixels are rendered in such a way that they are filled with life. The lack of a set route or a viewable map of the whole area could potentially be daunting to a player used to more signposting, but there are enough visual clues (actual signposts) to encourage exploration. And if you are aiming to reach the end as soon as possible, you know that the direction you need to head is upwards.
There is so much to love in A Short Hike. The dry humour and deadpan delivery of the characters, the non-threatening nature of the gameplay, the charming visuals, the soundtrack that champions a feeling of wonder and adventure, and the sense of freedom to explore the island and find your own path at your own pace.
A Short Hike Review £6.29
The feeling when you are on holiday and you don’t want to leave: free of daily obligations and worries, and being surrounded by exciting new opportunities and adventures. This is the essence of A Short Hike. Truly marvellous.