A Short Hike Review – No Stress Zone

    Title: A Short Hike
    Developer: Whippoorwill
    Release Date: November 16, 2021
    Reviewed On: PS4
    Publisher: Humble Games
    Genre: Platformer, Exploration

A Short Hike, created by developer Adam Robinson-Yu and published by Humble Games in 2019, has finally made its way to PlayStation. I hadn’t experienced this game before, but it’s been sitting in my backlog for about a year, so this new port gave me the perfect excuse to chill out with a mug of tea and my thoughts.

The elephant in the room with this game is in its title – A Short Hike is, well, short. You can easily reach the credits in about an hour, and that’s going to be a dealbreaker in and of itself for many people. But what it fills that hour with is a delightful exploration experience about a girl trying to get some cell phone reception as she awaits a vital phone call.

A Short Hike title screen

The protagonist, Claire, is on vacation in a small but mountainous island park, where her aunt is the local ranger. She’s been feeling listless due to her lack of cell service, and her aunt suggests climbing up to the peak of the tallest mountain on the island to try and find reception from the nearest tower.

On the way up, she’ll meet many other residents and vacationers, each of whom is charming and sympathetic in modern ways. The broke college student trying to afford tuition, the marathon runner afraid she can’t perform without her lucky headband, and the kids who have invented an entire sport out of boredom are just a few of the neat little people you can find and converse with.

A Short Hike collecting stuff

There are also collectibles to find all over the place. Your abilities to climb and glide, which will need to be upgraded in order to reach the top of the hill, allows you access to secret spots and out-of-the-way treasures all over the island, which offer very ample rewards, even if it’s a little easy to get lost since all you’ve got to navigate is a compass.

Additionally, there are plenty of items you can collect that will help you accomplish other tasks, like a bucket you can use to water flowers or a fishing rod to partake in a familiar minigame. This game is the very definition of low-stakes, and as a player, I found something to appreciate in the chill-vibes-only atmosphere.

A Short Hike meeting people

Visually speaking, the game is very pleasantly unique for a modern title. The game’s deliberately-blocky polygonal presentation seems to be directly inspired by Animal Crossing, specifically the Nintendo DS Wild World entry. As a result, the island’s funny-animal-people residents look like villagers. In addition, several activity markers (especially the indicators of buried treasure and the flower sprout) almost look directly lifted from that 3DS Animal Crossing entry. However, the way the developer integrates this into the game’s own art style makes it still feel distinct.

I wasn’t sure what I would get from A Short Hike, having been trained to expect a dramatic twist in any game with such an innocent, relaxing presentation. There’s not much to the story beyond your brief interactions with other people and the scene that plays at the top of the mountain. While that scene is brief, I did find it genuinely touching. (Charmingly, after gliding from the top of the mountain, you land in the “Orange Islands,” an obvious old-school Pokémon reference.)

A Short Hike beachstickball

There’s likely a bit more for you to do after reaching the peak, but the entirety of this game isn’t likely to take you more than two or so hours. That being said, the ending of the experience is pitch-perfectly low-key and left me satisfied with the chill time I just had. Despite its length, A Short Hike genuinely feels like it fits an entire high-quality, average-length campaign into an experience designed to be completed in one sitting, which is even more refreshing now than it was in 2019. In today’s lineup of expansive, open-world timesinks, there’s a lot to be said about a game that left me totally happy with getting through it in under ninety minutes.

If it seems like I’m reaching for things to say about A Short Hike, it’s only because it wouldn’t take you too much longer actually to play it than it would to read reviews. (Heck, you can even get it for free from the Humble Trove if you happen to subscribe to their monthly service.) It’s the kind of singularly relaxing-yet-meaningful game that reminds you that you can take a second away from your daily stress and just step outside and breathe.

Maybe even go for a little walk.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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