There’s something to be said about an adventure game that’s rather short and to the point. Instead of being a sweeping tale that takes hours on end to see it through to the conclusion. A game that doesn’t shoot for the moon, but accomplishes just about everything it sets out to do. That’s precisely the experience I had with A Short Hike, the latest game from Adam Robinson-Yu (AKA Adamgryu).
To the peak
A Short Hike follows the story of Claire, an anthropomorphic bird who’s spending her summer with her aunt in the fictional Hawk Peak Provincial Park. The story opens with Claire’s arrival to the park, receiving a brief rundown of how things work by her aunt who works as a ranger. After this, players are free to explore and tackle the story however they choose.
I was impressed with A Short Hike’s open world approach. Even for a game with a limited setting, it still felt like there was so much to see and discover. This is due to the excellent work done in making each of the characters and their respective stories feel so distinct from one another. There’s a variety of different animals on the mountain, all with their own unique goals and motivations. I made it a priority to speak to every single character I saw, just because they always had something fascinating to say.
A lot of credit is due to the writing in A Short Hike, specifically dialogue. The characters are actually quite funny, and dialogue always feel as authentic as two people actually having a conversation, rather than the robotic personalities that so many NPCs take on. I met a goat at the base of the mountain that was in distress over their lost watch. In asking me to help find it, they went on rants about not trusting the internet, and people online conspiring to steal their watch. This was just one of several NPC encounters that got a laugh out of me.
Spread your wings
As players scale Hawk Peak they’ll use a few different methods to overcome obstacles and traverse the environment. This includes gliding as Claire can spread her wings and soar through the skies with a simple hold of a button. I was surprised by how good the flying felt, as I could quickly execute turns, quickly dive towards the ground, and lightly glide with the breeze.
A lot of the gameplay progression in A Short Hike is tied to Golden Feathers, which players will find in various locations around the mountain. Golden Feathers serve as a stamina meter and allow the player to sprint, double jump, and perform other activities. Despite the freestyle approach to the story, I found that there was really solid pacing in my progression of unlocking new abilities and collecting feathers.
Overall, everything in A Short Hike just feels natural. From the tasks you solve for NPCs, to the random treasures discovered while exploring, it really plays to that design philosophy popularized by The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. One particular moment that really illustrated the game’s brilliance was when I reached a high point on the mountain and looked through a pair of binoculars stationed on a cliff. I could see Golden Feathers on the ground that I hadn’t previously noticed, shells that I needed to complete one of my quests, and even a group of characters that I had previously encountered, running their laps all the way in the distance. This moment immediately gave me half a dozen things to do without throwing a bunch of waypoints at me through an in-game map.
The only hang up I had with A Short Hike is that it’s easy to forget who asked for what, or where certain characters were at. Though I appreciate the organic approach to the game’s design, there were times where I wished I had a journal to remind myself what I was in the middle of doing at any given moment.
The gorgeous winding road
On top of what is an excellent foundation for narrative and gameplay, A Short Hike is simply pretty to look at. Its pixelated art style works well with the 3D world and creates a visual identity similar to that of an animated short you would see on a children’s TV network. The swaying of the trees, the zips of wind in the sky, it’s all incredibly serene.
The game’s use of color and lighting is also really well done. The rocks, pathways, building, and trees are all vibrant and lively, and the sun shines through the clouds above to light them in dynamic ways.
I also quite enjoyed the game’s music, as composed by Mark Sparling. A lot of the melodies reminded me of the tunes heard in the Animal Crossing games. The music seamlessly changes depending on where you are in the world, another nice touch to the game’s ambient sound design. The music is very subdued, feeling more like an ambience that compliments what’s happening on-screen.
On the mountaintop
A Short Hike is a delightful journey through a vibrant park, bolstered by some fascinating characters and impressive writing. The gameplay is well-rounded, with abilities that are fun to use and a consistent progression. Despite a nitpick or two, there’s hardly anything to knock about Adamgryu’s latest outing.
This review is based on a digital download code provided by the publisher. A Short Hike is available now for $7.99 USD on PC, Switch, PS4, and PS5.