Reviewed on PC.
Sometimes, all you really need is a good walk to get you up on your feet and out of your head. A Short Hike is the virtual version of a refreshing walk, allowing you to declutter your brain and organise your thoughts without having to actually go anywhere. There’s no pressure, no time limits, no enemies – the world is your oyster.
In A Short Hike, you play as Claire, a bird who’s determined to hike to the top of Hawk Peak in order to get some phone signal. How you get there is up to you: you can start your journey immediately, stopping only to collect more Golden Feathers to boost your stamina, or you can explore the island at your own pace and get there when you get there.
The in-game world is laid out like a snowglobe or a terrarium. It’s a self contained island, with several different terrains to explore and an endless expanse of ocean surrounding it. Despite the game consisting of a single island, I never ran out of places to explore. Each nook and cranny contains something new to discover, whether it be a treasure chest, a special flower that requires watering, or simply a place to stand at and reflect for a while.
At first, I made it my goal to get up to the very top of Hawk Peak Provincial Park as soon as possible. Seeing as Claire was waiting for an important call, I thought I should focus on that. However, as the game unfolded, I found myself spending more and more time caught up in helping others, exploring, and unwinding.
A Short Hike has an entire cast full of colourful characters who are delightfully Animal Crossing-esque in appearance, sporting anthropomorphic animal designs and similar babbling voices. Each character is surprisingly supportive – even when I was bested during a parkour race, my opponent still thanked me profusely for helping them out and cheering them up. I starting to approach NPCs in the hopes that they’d want my help with something, rather than offering me some one-off dialogue. I didn’t even expect rewards. Just helping people out on my journey made me feel better.
While many sidequests require you to help someone out in some way, whether it be finding a headband, trading a larger shovel for a smaller shovel, or participating in a hearty game of beachstickball. However, many sidequests also offer an activity or an escape for you to get lost in. Once I learnt how to fish, that was it. I spent about 5 hours just wandering around the island, throwing my rod at any body of water in the hopes of hooking a fish. Even though I still had to focus on the task of actually reeling in a fish, the whole process was still incredibly relaxing.
If you’re more of a competitive gamer, you might enjoy the challenge of trying to catch every fish, pick up every shell, or complete every side quest. However, I really want to emphasise that A Short Hike really doesn’t put any pressure on the player. You won’t get penalised if you forget to talk to someone or pick up an item, there’s no time limit, and the only true obstacle is not having enough stamina if you don’t have enough Golden Feathers. This is truly a game that you can take at your own pace.
Golden Feathers are magical items that give Claire stamina boosts, allowing her to do things such as sprint, fly higher, and climb rock faces. You only need eight to complete the entire trail and, if you’ve been picking up coins on your journey, you’ll easily have enough money to purchase at least five from the NPCs you meet on your way. Other Golden Feathers can be found lying around or can be given as rewards.
Being able to fly is one of the high points of the game. Being able to glide around the island, soaring with the air currents, is a truly freeing experience. While at the start of the game, Claire can only glide, her flight ability becomes more powerful with each Golden Feather gained. Before you know it, you’ll be eschewing the ability to walk in favour of flying everywhere.
There’s only really one problem with A Short Hike: how short of a hike it really is. While you can spend hours upon hours exploring the world and getting to know everything and everyone in it, the actual hike and thus the main storyline can be completed in just under an hour. Your journey might be over before you even know it.
The length of the game doesn’t affect its emotional impact, though. In fact, if anything, it compliments it – A Short Hike doesn’t need to spend hours telling its story. The ending is something that most of us can relate to, and something that most of us will probably shed a tear over. I know I did.
That’s not to say that the game is a serious affair, though. In fact, it does a brilliant job of balancing lighthearted humour, serious business, and downright ridiculousness. It’ll make you laugh, make you cry, and make you say “what” in a complete monotone.
All in all, A Short Hike is the perfect game to help you get out of your head for a little while and just take a miniature holiday from the real world. You can save and quit the game whenever you like and, upon your return, everything will be just as you left it. It makes a change from the usual hurried and competitive pace of games and it’s a reminder that, sometimes, a short break is all you really need.
A Short Hike is out today, July 30th, on PC, Mac, and Linux. You can pick it up on Steam here and check it out on Itch.io here. You can also check out the game’s official website here and follow the game’s creator, Adam Robinson-Yu, on Twitter here.