A Short Hike, the review of a small and precious open world



We climbed mountains, fished for trout, and played volleyball with a stick; all to bring you our review of A Short Hike.

It was supposed to be a short hike, but it turned out to be longer than expected. Released in July 2019 on PC and then the following year on Nintendo Switch, A Short Hike has finally landed on PlayStation and Xbox as well.

We take this opportunity to tell you about our experience with this great little game created by the multifaceted Adam Robinson-Yu. It is a simple adventure, but one that manages to capture you.

Here’s our review of A Short Hike.

A short story of formation

A Short Hike: the story of young Claire and her ascent of Hawk Peak

The title of the game encapsulates the different souls of the adventure that is intended to propose. One of these is definitely the story of a real hike, undertaken by the young Claire on the advice of her aunt during a day (seemingly endless) in the national park of Hawk Peak Island.

In this microcosm inhabited by anthropomorphic animals, our goal is to accompany Claire on this climb, which will lead her to meet bizarre individuals and, as in the most traditional tales of formation, even herself.

Climbing up to the peak of the mountain is precisely the metaphor for this character’s growth. Yet, the narrative seems to focus more on the fleeting encounters than on the characterization of the main character, who is relegated to the sole function of a means to explore this wacky world. One does not feel the actual evolution of Claire’s character.

Rather than a seminal experience in this individual’s life, it feels like one of those summer adventures that come to mind years later during a dinner party with friends. As legitimate as the intention was, the laughable character development of the little protagonist fails to hit the mark.

Despite this, A Short Hike stands out precisely because of the random encounters, not strictly necessary to reach the top of the mountain. Each of the characters you meet along the way has its own story and its own peculiarities, both character and physical, which makes them easily recognizable and traceable within the game world, which is not always obvious (but it must also be said that the map is not among the largest in circulation).

So, it’s a game that focuses more on the social ecosystem surrounding the protagonist than on the protagonist herself. A choice not for all palates, we realize, but it can also have its own charm, if you prefer to immerse yourself in an environment than to step into the shoes of a third character.

The seeds of Animal Crossing in gameplay

A Short Hike: the game of beach volleyball with sticks like rackets

Like it or not, the Animal Crossing series has marked the minds of many individuals, developers included. Even in the case of A Short Hike, the influence in the realization of gameplay has been there. Not only that: even at the iconographic level we are faced with an operation that, for some, could have the taste of shameless plagiarism (we refer to the grooves in the ground in the shape of a star to indicate to the player where to dig or the silhouettes “drop” of fish to be able to fish, but also, trivially, the characters from the traits animal and minimal).

It must be said, however, that this process has been camouflaged with some success, since A Short Hike still manages to get its own specific identity, while fishing from the great classics of the past. A dynamic that represents a bit ‘also the soul intrinsic to the video game industry (and not only), which is to be able to capture the most functional mechanics and trends and adapt them to its narrative for images.

A Short Hike: gliding is fundamental to the gameplay

The primary goal of the game is to get to the top of Hawk Peak. Thus, one of the key features of the gameplay is the ability to climb rock walls. This can be done from any location and at any point on the map, as long as you have enough stamina for climbing. This is symbolized by the golden feathers, collectible items that allow you to increase our stamina, but also to perform multiple jumps (wing beats) consecutively. In addition, Claire can also perform an infinite glide, which does not consume stamina, but that does not even allow you to recover it. The balancing act lies in dosing the jumps with the climbing sections, since the “feathers” will only recharge once you find yourself with your feet on a flat surface. The mechanics of stamina management has its variations as you progress in the adventure, but nothing too complex: just know how to properly balance your strength and explore a little ‘game map to increase the energy reserve.

For the rest, the title provides a whole series of secondary activities, from the aforementioned fishing (with a lot of different specimens depending on the place) to the possibility of driving a motorboat or playing volleyball with a stick. In short, those holiday activities and “young marmots” that identify the imagination of the North American national park.

A really short climb

A Shot Hike: indeed, it doesn't take long to get to the top of the mountain

Another of the souls that spring from the title of the game is precisely the brevity of the adventure. A Short Hike is completed in about an hour and a half, definitely a time that is tight to the construction of a narrative that exceeds the nature intriguing to reach the shores of the expressive satisfaction. To highlight that we are not talking about an hour and a half to reach the end credits without doing anything else, but exploring thoroughly and also completing many secondary activities (if not all).

However, it should be put a very important stake in these measurements: the title does not want to push absolutely compulsion to interactive, indeed, was designed with the intent to provide an experience adaptable to their own time. As far as we are concerned, you might just want to fish or run freely with the boat for hours and hours, maybe reopening the game even after completing the main adventure. The philosophy of the title is to enjoy it in the way you prefer, without limitations of any kind. And we can only welcome this choice.

The indecision of the stylistic line

A Shot Hike: artistically the game is very valid

Like many independent titles developed by individuals who have a certain regard for the aesthetics of their product, A Short Hike immediately strikes you for its artistic sector. Punctuated by a balanced and harmonious color palette, the game offers a graphic style that owes much both to experimentation in the field of art with pixel art, and to the minimalist research of textures and models, whose thickness is given more by the colors and light that affects them than by the actual structural complexity that defines them. The care, from this point of view, is impeccable, really impactful, if you think that it is the work of a single hand (although some external contributions are reported as regards the artistic side).

Even at the sound level the game does not disappoint, bringing the mind back to Nintendo territory, with recurring musical themes (composed by Mark Sparling) that have a marked nostalgic trait.

A Short Hike: the developer didn't confide much about the impact of his stylistic choices

What made us turn up our noses a little bit, however, was a choice made by the developer, that is, to give the possibility to set the intensity of the pixel level that makes up the image, up to cancel the effect. If it’s a behavior we’ve seen in several titles in recent years, it’s still strange, as it’s usually associated either with a nostalgic issue related to the remastering of an old video game, or with a “retro” effect applied to a product that a bit refers to the “arcade” atmospheres.

In this case, the game already starts with the intention of proposing an adventure in pixel art. The fact of giving the possibility to change the actual final appearance of the image is not necessarily deplorable, but it is still a lack of confidence in your vision, which is never good when you want to share with the world a work of genius (it’s like choosing to shoot a film in 4:3 format, but being afraid that the public may not like the choice and also provide a 21:9 version shot digitally).

Comment

A Short Hike, as the title underlines, is not a mammoth work. Few would approach it with the intention of finding a vast and varied product. Surely its contained nature (although not free from various smears, ranging from narrative uncertainties to little confidence in the effectiveness of its work) can save the status of generational adventure, dedicated to those who have matured and those who still have all the time in the world to grow up. Perhaps, in the end, it is precisely the short duration of the adventure the strength of the game that, although not able to tell a strong individual story and structured, manages to tell that of a community recognizable and genuine, whose fleeting encounters are distant and fade behind inscrutable banks of fog, as we continue our short climb along the existential slopes of being.

PRO

  • A truly relaxing experience
  • Technical compartment meticulously maintained
  • Well-characterized secondary characters
  • Poorly defined main story
  • Low confidence in one’s own expressive abilities
  • Have you noticed any errors?
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