Claire, a young bird girl, is spending the summer with her Aunt May, who works as a ranger at Hawk Peak Provincial Park. Claire has free run of the entire park, with soaring mountains, relaxing hot springs, gorgeous beaches and hidden islands to explore. One day, Claire decides to hike up to the very top of Hawk Peak so that she can get cell phone reception and make an important call. Along the way, she interacts with park visitors, collects stamina-boosting Golden Feathers, and possibly even dig up some buried treasure!
A Short Hike was designed by indie game developer Adam Robinson-Yu, under the alias adamgryu. It released for PC (including Windows, Mac OS, and Linux) in July 2019 to near-universal acclaim. A highly unexpected (but much desired) Nintendo Switch port was announced during the August 18 Indie World Showcase livestream event, and released via the eShop the exact same day.
I'll be honest. When I first heard A Short Hike described to me as "a cross between Animal Crossing and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild," I was more than a little dubious. Breath of the Wild is my favorite video game of all time, and I have yet to find any other title which can recreate the feeling of absolute freedom that game provides, with a sprawling landscape you can explore any which way. But after finishing A Short Hike in one exhilarating sitting, I'd have to say that that comparison is extremely accurate.
At the heart of A Short Hike is Hawk Peak Park itself, the beautiful natural gem resting on a flora-rich island in the middle of a gorgeous sapphire blue sea. While the park may seem small at first, the island is actually quite dense, with lots of hidden locations to explore. Sure, it's possible for the player to guide Claire straight to the top of the mountain and finish the game in a mere thirty or forty minutes, but I don't recommend that as you'll be missing out on so much.
Instead, I highly recommend letting yourself wander, rediscovering the joy of simply getting lost in the wilderness with no particular path or purpose. (Don't worry even if you actually find yourself losing your way - the Park features plenty of trail signs, and a handy Compass item reminds you which way is north). You'll find something new and exciting around every corner, whether it's a treasure chest to open, a chill Park visitor to talk to, or even a ruined building to explore. There's so much to discover inside the Park, from new skills to learn to hats to wear to riddles to solve.
The player's wandering through the park is facilitated by a movement scheme which clearly draws inspiration from Breath of the Wild. Claire is not limited to simply walking around: she can scale steep cliffs, sail around the water in a boat, and, of course, being a bird, she can glide and fly. This provides the player with a sense that their ability to explore is truly limitless, as there are very few arbitrary boundaries or artificial "walls" keeping you in. (I especially recommend finding an updraft and using it to get some extra height while gliding, or nurturing one of the local Rubber Flower specimens which will let you bounce to your heart's content.)
A Short Hike's core gameplay mechanic is the collection of Golden Feathers, items which allow Claire to climb, run, and fly for longer periods of time. These can be both purchased from certain NPCs and found hidden within chests throughout the park. You can even score a few feathers by helping park visitors find their lost items! The hunt for the feathers is a lot more satisfying than most video game "item collection" quests, as you receive a tangible benefit from each and every feather obtained. It's extremely satisfying to go from struggling over the tiniest ridges to effortlessly scaling sheer cliffs and then gently gliding all the way from the top back down to the ground below.
Plus, it's refreshing that the "hunt feathers" portion of the game is essentially only as long as you want it to be - there are over a dozen Golden Feathers in the game, but only seven or eight are actually needed to reach the top of Hawk Peak. You can stop there or continue on for your own personal enjoyment to reach ever greater heights - there's absolutely no "wrong" way to play the game!
Further contributing to the game's relaxing atmosphere are its adorable pixel art style, relatable animal characters, and gentle, ambient soundtrack. Like Hawk Peak Park itself, A Short Hike is the kind of environment you can simply get lost in. I found myself losing track of time while playing, and several pleasant hours passed without me truly realizing it. Once I reached a point where I was satisfied with my progress, I finished the game feeling much calmer and less stressed out than I had been previously. I felt like I had made the journey alongside Claire, and gained the same new peace of mind and appreciation for nature which the intrepid bird herself had.
Without spoiling the endgame, the phone call which Claire makes at the top of Hawk Peak is the perfect conclusion to her journey, emphasizing the game's theme of appreciation for nature and the bonds of family and friendship. Whether you spend one hour or five accompanying Claire on her hike, the game's ending will be satisfying, putting the perfect cap on your relaxing experience with this game.
For all of us around the world who are currently stuck inside, A Short Hike may just be exactly the type of game we need. It is a truly stunningly designed natural environment which lets the player explore it without limits. Whether you want to take a short hike or a long one, head straight to the top or wander aimlessly through the trees, this indie gem is the perfect way to have a "day out" from the comfort of your own home.
This review was based off a copy of the game purchased by the author.