If you’re already fond of casual, walking simulators than this would likely be a good choice for you. Otherwise, this short game with minimal objectives might not be for you.
Genres: Walking Simulator
Release date: 30 July, 2019
If ever a game title expressed the idea of a walking simulator, A Short Hike (SH) would certainly come to mind. Since I’m not the biggest fan of games like that, I typically wouldn’t play it. However, when SH came up in a monthly Humble Bundle with great reviews, I caved to the peer pressure. Plus, though the graphics looked kind of strange, SH also looked very cute and charming, and I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Is SH a few miles short and makes you crave more, or does it need to find a pier to walk off of?
The title of the game isn’t a misnomer, as the central gameplay of SH involves going around the island and climbing up the peak, IE going on a hike. Plus, unless you insist on finding all the secrets before reaching the zenith, it’s fairly short, as I wrapped up the game in about 2 hours. Going back to explore everything I missed might take another hour or so. However, there are additional mechanics which give more to do than simply trek about and check out the sights. Since you play as a bird person, you’re able to glide after jumping, which combines quite well with a mountainous terrain. You’re also able to fish in various bodies of water, dig for goods, and speak with some of the locals, helping them out with basic fetch quests for rewards. It’s all rather simple, but there’s enough areas of interest scattered around that you won’t have to walk very far before coming across something you can do.
With walking being the main mechanic of SH, the controls aren’t that complex. Movement is controlled with the ‘L joystick,’ while ‘A’ is used to glide, climb, and interact with environmental objects. You can bring up the menu with either ‘Y, Start,’ or ‘Select,’ and the items in your inventory you can use will be marked by a yellow dot. To use an item you have equipped, just tap ‘B,’ and if you want to put that item away you can hit the ‘L bumper.’ After getting the running shoes, you’ll hold down ‘X’ to run. One issue with the controls I had was figuring out why I kept nosediving while gliding, which seems to happen if I either glide against the flow I have, or when I let go of the ‘L joystick.’
You play as Claire, who I assume is a young teenager based on how she acts, as she’s both considerate and willing to confront others nonsense. There’s also the general surliness shown by someone lounging in bed most of the morning because they’re bored. Aside from what you see in the intro and the conclusion, there isn’t much of a story shown, as many NPCs have brief conversations with you.
I don’t want to give away how SH ends, but it does tie together the sense of family togetherness I associate with summer back when I was growing up. It’s a light touch on the game, you don’t interact with your family very much and know next to nothing about anybody, yet the dialogue and central issue should relate to most people on a basic level. Plus, with Claire being a teenager, it makes sense that she’d be left to do her own thing, with only light encouragement to get out there and have some fun instead of cooping up in the cabin all day.
I have mixed feelings about the graphics, because in one sense, the cutesy designs are charming and enjoyable. However, I also find that there’s something just screwy enough with the visuals to throw me off, as it can disorient and hurt my eyes at times. After a while I get used to it, but I’m not sure why the graphics are so off-kilter to me. For the most part, it looks like it’s just another pixelated game, with a reasonable pallet for a mountain environment. This isn’t something I learned until later, but this issue only arose under the default settings. You can turn off the pixels under the graphics options, which makes the game look smooth and didn’t cause this problem for me anymore.
SH uses basic instruments such as guitars and drums for most of its composition, though there are some interesting sound effects tossed in as well. It has a calm, relaxing tone to it, which is well suited for the mindset of taking a casual stroll outdoors. From what I understand, each song has a variant to it, based around what you’re doing. I’m not sure about all of the triggers, but when you get enough golden feathers to sustain a longer glide, you’ll notice the song change as you stay with the glide for several seconds in contrast to when you were climbing upwards.
- The simple gameplay is pretty charming. Being able to casually switch from fishing to exploring has a nice freedom to it, as nothing is too committal in SH. Plus, gliding around is surprisingly fun.
- As you gather a decent amount of golden feathers, you have sufficient stamina to deal with any requirement without difficulty. It’s a good reward for finding several of them.
- I like how the dialogue between characters is written, as it seems genuine and believable. It doesn’t hurt that most of the NPCs are either nice or funny.
- I appreciate having a compass, but without a map, it’s kind of useless. It’s a bit difficult figuring out where things are in relation to one another or to find something you’re looking for. There’s also no tracking system for fetch quests or the like.
- Although I liked the ending of SH, when you actually get the end card and credits misses the mark ever so slightly. I think that if it triggered after the conversation with your aunt it would have been more poignant.
- The game’s selling price is pretty steep for such a short experience.
- For me, I’m quite used to jumping, letting go of the button, and then tapping it again to get a glide or start climbing. In SH, you want to get in the habit of just holding the button down right after pushing it, because it’s useful whether climbing or gliding.
- You’re able to save and quit at any time, so you don’t have to worry about losing progress if you have to duck out early.
SH does a good job capturing the enjoyable parts of walking simulators. It’s atmospheric enough to maintain your interest, assuming it doesn’t screw with your eyes the way it sometimes did for me, yet is also laid back as there’s no urgency or rush. Having simple objectives and tasks to do in each location also provides enough stimulus that you have something to focus on and accomplish. It could be improved with some quality of life additions, but it’s a casual experience to enjoy if you want to mellow out for a while. The game can be finished pretty quickly, and unless you want to be really thorough in finding things, which almost goes against the grain of the game’s intention, you wouldn’t have much reason to play it indefinitely. That’s why I would recommend SH, but you’d want to pick it up on sale instead of paying full price for it.