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I didn’t know what to expect when I loaded A Short Hike up for the first time. I’d been told it was “relaxing”, but the trouble with a lot of relaxing games is that their gameplay is often hard to describe to people who haven’t already played the game. Before I picked up Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I knew I wanted to give it a shot based on how excited the people around me were, but I couldn’t find anything in particular to get myself excited about. Similarly, now that I’ve played (and enjoyed) New Horizons for a couple months, I can’t adequately explain to my friends what it is I like about it. It’s just fun. And… relaxing.
A Short Hike is similar. But if “it’s relaxing” is hardly helpful when attached to a friendly recommendation, it’s definitely not a great place to end a review. Let’s get into why the game is relaxing.
A Short Hike‘s main goal is simple. As Claire, an avian visitor to Hawk Peak Provincial Park, you need to scale the island’s tallest mountain, both to fulfill an ancestral tradition and because it’s the only place in the park with reliable phone service. To reach that goal, though, the journey is yours.
The way up the mountain isn’t as straightforward as the game’s premise makes it seem. One of A Short Hike‘s neatest features is its stamina system, a pool of energy limited by the number of golden feathers you’ve collected. Each feather increases how far you can run, and how high you can climb and fly. Golden feathers can be earned through completing tasks, purchased from vendors, or stumbled upon via exploration. The idea is simple, but it creates a gameplay loop where the player is rewarded with additional mobility over time. Earning golden feathers through discovery leads to more opportunities for discovery, all the way to the top of the mountain.
On the way to the peak, you’ll meet a variety of local residents and visitors, some of whom have tasks to complete. Almost all of these are completely optional; some offer feathers or other helpful items, but none definitively gate your progress. That’s part of what makes the game… relaxing. Everything is optional. There’s a neat little volleyball minigame that commanded my attention for an insane amount of time relative to its simplicity. There’s a set of three parkour-style races around the island that had me feeling all too intense and competitive. Some folks are looking for lost items, while others just need a little encouragement. Doing everything the game has to offer is fun and rewarding, but it’s not necessary. You do you, y’know?
A Short Hike is simple, but that doesn’t mean its mechanics aren’t interesting. Flying and gliding around the island is (mostly) smooth and allows for a variety of approaches to challenges and navigation. The controls are easily understandable and quick to learn, provided you’re using a controller. I spent my first play session trying to acclimate to the prescribed arrow-keys-and-Z control scheme before tossing it in favor of the clearly superior gamepad. Everything was easier from then on, though the choice to map most of the game’s navigation (jumping, flying, and gliding) and most of its interaction (conversation, picking up items, reading signs) to the “A” button was, at times, difficult to understand.
Fans of fishing minigames rejoice: there’s a fishing minigame. It’s a pretty standard wait-until-the-bobber-drops affair, which isn’t my favorite, but if it’s the sort of thing you find relaxing, great. Either way, neglecting fishing didn’t prevent me from moving forward.
This is about it as far as the game’s major mechanics go. As you journey up the mountain, you’ll also come across a variety of tools and items that add to the island’s depth. Shovels open the way to subterranean loot, pickaxes allow for the clearing of passageways through collapsed mineshafts, and descriptions found on treasure maps offer riddles that point toward buried goods.
Core to the experience are A Short Hike’s calming soundtrack and unique, pixelated visual style. The music matches the feel of exploring the island, from slow, relaxing melodies that play as you wander the beach to the triumphant background songs that fade in each time you take off from a cliff and glide around the mountain’s face. The visuals, to me, match the experience, but they can be jarring. It’s worth noting that, despite its appearance in screenshots, the game isn’t “pixelated” in traditional bit form. Instead, its low-poly visuals sit under a pixel filter, giving it a distinct, stylized appeal.
A Short Hike is lovely, but its name is forthcoming: it’s a short game. Absolute completionists shouldn’t expect to spend any more than 10 hours on it, and casual players are likely to see far less. I claimed the game for free through a promotion on the Epic Store, but its full asking price is $7.99. If you’re looking for a neat, artsy, relaxing game to make you feel good inside for a few hours, A Short Hike is a very worthy contender.
Graphic Content: None
- Relaxing Soundtrack & Visuals
- Exploration & Adventure
- Vertical Mobility
- Pressure-Free Narrative
- Positive Theme
WHAT I LIKED
- Unique mobility-based progression
- Immersive sights & sounds
- Relaxing Gameplay
- Uncomfortable keyboard controls
WHO’S IT FOR?
If you’re looking for a neat, artsy, relaxing game to make you feel good inside for a few hours, A Short Hike is a very worthy contender.
From Steamspy unless otherwise noted.
Average Playtime: 3 hours 37 minutes
Average Cost per Hour*: $2.21
Median Playtime: 3 hours 37 minutes
Median Cost per Hour*: $2.21
*Costs calculated using a price of $7.99