Ocean waves break calmly on the shore outside Claire’s cabin the day she decides to go on a short hike. “I don’t want to miss a call,” Claire tells her aunt before running off to begin her journey, not knowing how long this hike will turn out to be.
Claire’s hunt for cell reception evolves into a calming journey across sandy beaches, colorful forests and treacherous peaks all reminiscent of a summer camp getaway. Created and distributed by indie developer Adam Robinson-Yu, “A Short Hike” is a game composed of walking through woods, climbing steep cliffs and gliding through the air.
Players take control of Claire, a witty bird visiting her Aunt who works as a ranger at a national park. Claire encounters an abundance of other quirky animals who will challenge her in races or the in-game sport sensation, “beachstickball.”
In order to advance Claire on her hiking trail, the player needs to collect golden feathers. These feathers add to Claire’s stamina, allowing her to climb longer, jump higher and sprint for extended periods. The more golden feathers Claire obtains, the easier her journey will be.
All paths forward are accessible anytime to players (save for the end of the game which requires a certain amount of golden feathers to access). Players have free range over the autumnal park via climbing, flying or walking through trees, meaning players can explore as much or as little as they want before ending the game.
The world of “A Short Hike” is familiar to Nintendo lovers because of the game’s resemblance to “Animal Crossing.” “A Short Hike” boasts adorable animal characters who crack silly jokes and demand little from the player. This sense of freedom should also be familiar to Nintendo fans, as it is how “Breath of the Wild” achieved greatness with an open world format.
Like any great game — big or small — “A Short Hike” contains a beautiful soundtrack. Composed by Mark Sparling, each track perfectly transitions into the other. Sparling’s tunes make entering a new area of the park, taking a swim or gliding through the air feel real and exciting.
The sound design is similarly spectacular. The foley work in “A Short Hike” fits perfectly with the visual style of the game, and blends seamlessly with the soundtrack. Nothing in this game overpowers the other. The art, sounds, music and gameplay work together to form one collaborative voice like singers in a choir.
What makes “A Short Hike” so endlessly beautiful is how full it feels despite how humble it is. The game never tries to be anything more than it promises. The game takes players on a short hike, but like any walk through nature, there will be something surprising along the way.
There are moments in “A Short Hike” that shocks players about how much can fit into such a small game. From fishing and watering plants to hunting for treasure, there is no shortage of activities for players to participate in on their short hike.
One of the only components of the game deserving of critique would be the lack of a map. Though the park is rather easy to navigate, the fixed rotating camera can make finding a way back to a certain area a struggle. The inclusion of a map would make this struggle be no more.
Aside from wanting a map, there is nothing truly bad to say about “A Short Hike.” Claire is a likable protagonist, the world is vibrant and the gameplay immerses players into a serene adventure full of fun surprises. The only other serious sin “A Short Hike” commits is the game’s own price point.
Despite the short length of the game — roughly two hours of gameplay — this masterpiece is incredibly underpriced. The hard work Robinson-Yu put into this game is worth far more than $7.99. Environments, character models, set pieces, dialogue systems, water mechanics and animations are no simple feats when done by a team, let alone a mostly solo creator.
The feeling of playing “A Short Hike” is that of wonder and curiosity. Players will find themselves scouring the park for the answer to riddles on hidden treasure maps, or finishing scavenger hunt-like quests for NPCs in return for golden feathers or cash.
For me personally, I spent most of my time in “A Short Hike” gliding through the air. Exploration is expansive even with the few golden feathers players have at the beginning of the game. I used this opportunity to fly around the park, stopping at all the interesting landmarks I found. I would wonder about who lived on the abandoned farm or who watched over the lighthouse on the pier.
Because of this exploration, I completely forgot my reasoning for reaching the end of Claire’s hike (which I am about to discuss, so if you would like to avoid spoilers, please stop reading here).
Like any teen spending their day running around, I forgot what my goal for the game was. After climbing the final cliff, Claire calmly sits high atop the mountain amidst green northern lights until a phone rings. Claire has found cell reception, and eagerly answers the call she’s been waiting for all day.
We, the players, finally learn the identity of the mysterious caller as Claire answers the phone, saying, “Hi, Mom!” Their conversation is short, sweet, simple and encouraging. Claire’s mother is about to go through surgery. Her procedure is not revealed to the audience, but the ambiguity makes the scene feel all the more relatable.
We’ve all been Claire before: scared of harm coming to our loved ones, yet wanting to live out our lives in happiness and joy. Sometimes we feel guilty for living while others are hurting, but — like Claire — we know our loved ones wouldn’t want us to feel this way.
The ending of “A Short Hike” is cathartic. Claire says goodbye to her mother and catches an updraft, allowing her to glide around the park from the top down. To show how far they’ve come, players are shown all the locations in the game they’ve traversed through.
Upon landing in front of her cabin, Claire tells her aunt about her day and steps inside for a nap. The end.
While this day was a great deal emotionally for Claire to handle, in reality her journey was the length of a walk in the park. “A Short Hike” tells players to take life slow because there is no rush to the top. When life gets hard and fast, there’s nothing wrong with catching your breath and taking a short hike.