A Short Hike Nintendo Switch review – short and sweet
It may be one of the shortest games of the year but the memories of this indie classic will stay with you long after you’ve completed it.
There’s been a lot of talk recently, especially following the release of the 12-hour long Mortal Shell, about what the ideal length for a video game might be. The prevailing theory has always been that the longer the better, as many gamers insist that a game should be 30+ hours long no matter what. That logic has led to a lot of very bloated and unfocused games over the years but given the cost of full-price games it’s been difficult to make the argument for change.
A Short Hike can’t help with that because it’s an indie game that costs barely more than a fiver, but what it does demonstrate is that quality will always be more important than quantity, in almost every field. A Short Hike was first released on PC last spring and was surprise-announced for the Switch in the most recent Indie World livestream, a format that it suits perfect given it already looks like an upscaled Nintendo DS game.
You’ll almost certainly play through the whole of the game in a single setting that will last less than two hours. But by that end of that you won’t be wishing it was longer, merely that there were other games that were equally economical about telling a story and setting a mood.
A Short Hike casts you as an anthropomorphic bird named Claire, who is being forced to visit her aunt who works as a ranger on an island nature reserve. Claire is young and bored, she’s also expecting an important call and the only chance of getting any phone reception is by hiking to the top of the park’s tallest mountain. As video game premises go it’s not the most dramatic call to action but it is one of the more relatable.
Although Claire is a bird she only has a limited gliding ability and so much of the game is spent hiking along the trails and looking for golden feathers that give you additional abilities, like climbing, and which act as a kind of stamina gauge.
A Short Hike is not, as some may have begun to fear, a walking simulator in the modern sense of the phrase, as there’s relatively little overt storytelling and there are proper gameplay mechanics that require at least some skill to use. Although it’d also be wrong to suggest this is any kind of action game.
Getting to the peak doesn’t require any superhuman (superavian?) feats of skill, as what A Short Hike is really all about is the journey. At first you, and Claire, are just trying to get to the peak as a means to an end. But soon you both begin to enjoy the distractions along the way, stopping for a spot of fishing, chatting with a local, or just wandering off the, literal, beaten track.
Cleverley, although it always seems you’re exploring entirely according to your own whims the game’s subtle signposting somehow manages to coax you towards the next point of interest. Although it seems entirely freeform there’s a lot more going on with the design than it first seems, which is a difficult trick to pull off.
The dialogue between you and the locals is never very lengthy, increasing the existing parallels with Animal Crossing, and while it is quite twee it manages to stay just the right side of saccharin and still pack in some decent jokes and some more heartfelt moments. It’s all very Nintendo and yet the sort of game it’s hard to imagine them actually making.
Visually, the game is a delight. Everything is very low resolution but packed with detail and personality to the point where you can’t tell whether the graphics are this way purely for artistic reasons or just a lack of budget. It’s no doubt a mixture of the two but the music is similarly excellent, perfectly reacting to changes in the weather and mood.
There are a lot of secrets packed into A Short Hike’s running time and we’re keen not to spoil any of them but perhaps its greatest achievement is how it manages to pack the wonderment of much larger games – the exploration of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild and the unexpected interconnectedness of Dark Souls – into such a tiny experience.
A Short Hike runs for about the same length as an average movie and for what it attempts to do that’s perfect. It isn’t necessarily an argument that video games would benefit from being shorter though, just that their running time should match how much they have to say without wearing out their welcome.
A Short Hike review summary
In Short: An utterly charming and perfectly paced mini-adventure that packs in more character, emotion, and sense of wonder than most 30 hour epics.
Pros: Great sense of freedom and exploration, with a wonderfully designed island and low budget graphics. Excellent script and characters, with a good soundtrack.
Cons: The twist behind Claire’s phone call is a little too underplayed.
Formats: Nintendo Switch (reviewed) and PC
Release Date: 18th August 2020
Age Rating: 3
*£5.66 till 30/8/20
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