With the current political climate across the planet, whether it’s the resurregence of alt-right ideologies, tyrannical leaders dismantling their governments, or the constant threat of extreme weather, one may deem it impossible, or possibly just rather difficult, to find ways that allow them to turn off the outside world and enjoy the simplier aspects of life.
Enter: A Short Hike.
Developed by Adam Robinson-Yu from Toronto Canada and released to Humble Monthly (now called Humble Choice) subscribers on April 5th, 2019, and then Steam and Itch.io on July 30th, 2019, A Short Hike is about a young bird who is taken on a trip to an island by a friend to help relax and get away from the big city.
Upon booting up the game, you’re greated to a calm, dark (in terms of lighting) main menu. There’s only one image above the menu options: a car driving on an empty highway with minimul street lamps. Just looking at this screen brings a sense of relaxation and tranquility. Selecting the option to start a new game seemlessly transitions you from a menu to a cutscene wherein we are introduced to our protagonist Claire, but only through text.
It’s also during these moments when the game offers a taste of its artstyle.
If there was to be only one way of describing the look and feel of A Short Hike’s art, it would be to compare it to Animal Crossing: Wild World for the Nintendo DS. Now, comparing this game to something released on the Nintendo DS is not an insult, far from it, but rather it’s to help illustrate how comforting or nostalgic this artstyle is for someone who grew up with that system.
Of course, since A Short Hike was made with a present-day game engine and designed to run on current computers, it will look better, the general esthetic is still present.
There are more aspects to A Short Hike’s overall design that go far beyond just a uniformed artstyle. It can be argued that atmoshpere is tied directly to artstyle, and, while that may be true, it is also tied to sound design which, thankfully for the game’s sake, holds up gorgeously.
Many in the sound world agree that the most important aspect of designing the “soundtrack” (music, effects, dialogue, etc) of a project, whether that project be a film, video, or game, the net result should be that the end consumer does not notice it. To elaborate, that does not mean that the sound of footsteps or the melody of the music should go unheard, but rather it means that the person consuming those sounds does so subconciously, as if it were the sounds in the real world. The average person tends to only notice something regarding sound design when it goes horribly wrong, but that doesn’t happen with A Short Hike.
All of the effects, music, and “dialogue,” which is less voice actors speaking into a microphone and moreso murmurs that seem generated by a tool, much in the same way how the villagers in Animal Crossing “speak” during dialogue, all come together to help sell the world the game is set in.
The music is especially noteworthy. It’s increadibly clear that Mark Sparling did an outstanding job with composing the songs that are played throughout the journey. There’s something about the arrangement of the melody, the tone of the notes, and the tempo of it all that can help soothe even the most anxious of souls.
Then, there are the sound effects.
The pitter patter of footsteps when walking on stones.
The suddle whirl of the wind.
The sharp cut of the shovel when digging for treasure.
All of these elements of the sound design help tickle that part of the brain that continues to be tricked into believing that you are in this world. You forget that your holding a controller even though you continue to press buttons on rotate the control stick.
Controlling the character has become second nature, almost instinctual, at this point.
And it all helps to sell the atmosphere of the game.
It’s been stating before that A Short Hike is increadibly soothing with the grand design of the game presenting a nice challenge a times, but not so challenging as to frustrate the player.
Writer’s Note: I’m going to break my rule about using the first person in articles and papers to let you know that I have an insanely difficult time describing emotions and feelings. In order to prevent the endless repeating of the thoughts that will happen if I continue like this, I’m instead going to link you to some content creators who illustrate my point about the game.
Of course, A Short Hike does indeed have gameplay, and rather satisfying gameplay at that.
The number one thing you will be doing is exploring the island. There are paths that lead to all sorts of sights including a lighthouse, dense forests, a fishing lodge, abandonded buildings, and even the peak of the mountian. As you explore, there will be characters to interact with, all of which have their own personalities and goals and dreams. Some of these characters will give you items or quests that will net you a reward when completed.
The main collectible of the game, outside of money, shells, and fish, which you have to fish for, obviously, is the collection of Golden Feathers. Golden Feathers act as a form of a stamina bar, except instead of limiting how long you can run, it limits how many times you can flap your wings to gain height or how long you can climb up walls. Some of these feathers can be bought by NPCs, given as rewards for side quests, or, more frequently, found throughout the game world.
To be quite honest, there’s not much more to be said about the gameplay outside of the first couple of paragraphs even though the gameplay it does have is still satisfying, as stated earlier. A Short Hike is less so something that you play solely for the gameplay, but rather something that you sit down, grab a friend, and maybe some tea, and experience, and that may just turn quite a few people away who require that their games have gameplay that is either just as or more than captivating than the story and design.
If there must be a numerical score given to this game… It would be an 8 out of 10 with the scale being as such:
10 – Masterpiece
9 – Amazing
8 – Great
7 – Good
6 – Above Average
5 – Average
4 – Lackluster
3 – Bad
2 – Horrendous
1 – Literally Unplayable
A Short Hike deserves all the praise it gets, but there are those who might find it boring from a gameplay perspective, and those criticisms are valid. However, when sitting down to play A Short Hike, think of it not as the next best thing in gaming, but rather a theraputic experience much like playing Animal Crossing.