Video games are getting big. Really big. We as players are constantly presented with games that continue to grow in scale and playtime. It’s not uncommon for some of the years most heralded games require a 50 to 60 hour dedication to complete. As a forty year old husband and father of two this often means having to pick and choose which massive game I can fit into my schedule and which I have to let pass me by. As I grow older I have learned to truly appreciate the short game as it allows me to experience something great in a movie-length experience without having to commit weeks or even months to seeing it through. So when I see a game that has “Short” right there in the title? Well let’s just say they’re singing my tune. But is A Short Hike a satisfying bite-sized video game, or did it leave me hungry for more?
A Short Hike tells the brief story of Claire, a young bird who is staying with her Aunt May who is a park ranger at Hawk Peak Provincial Park. Claire is a city bird who is staying with May while her mother undergoes a medical procedure back home. The game opens with a brief conversation with May outside your lodge about the poor cell reception in the park. Claire is waiting for her mother to call her once she’s out of surgery to let her know that she’s ok and May advises her to hike up Hawk Peak in order to get proper reception. Claire is wary as she’s never had to rough it in the wilderness before but May assures her that the journey will be a good learning experience and an opportunity for Claire to really see what she’s made of. The ensuing time spent in the game is all about Claire making the journey to the peak so she can receive the call she is waiting so desperately for.
Once the opening narration is out of the way the game puts everything in the players hands. There are multiple routes up the mountain and several ways you can approach the hike but it’s not a straight shot to the peak. Claire must learn to climb, fly, fish and play stick ball with the locals in order to level herself up and make her ascent. The clever thing about A Short Hike is that there are several ways to make it to the top but none of them are essential and the game doesn’t go out of its way to busy you up with tasks or missions. Everything seems to happen organically and it works very well. Your trip up Hawk Peak will probably be different than mine and that’s pretty cool.
The thing that really sells me on this experience however are the same things that endeared me to the 2017 indie classic Night in the Woods. The writing is very dry and funny as the little animal characters go about their business around the park much in the same way they did in Possum Springs. It is incredibly charming to hear these cute animated characters spout dry sarcastic wit in Wes Anderson fashion and I am here for that. The other inescapable charm of A Short Hike are the visuals. As someone who absolutely adores the era of late nineties early 3D games I am in love with the visual style of this game which seems to emulate the style of the PlayStation one era. Things are flat, yet 3D. Characters are pixelated against flat shaded polygons. It’s a style that I am charmed by to no end and it pairs itself quite well with the quirky tone and simple gameplay formula.
But when it comes to how I feel about this game as a complete package there is definitely a feeling of “want” once you reach the end. Just as I was starting to get comfortable and sink in with this experience I was greeted with a black screen and the text “The End”. It is an abrupt conclusion to an experience that I was enjoying and by slamming the proverbial door in the player’s face I feel the developer makes a big misstep. The game does allow you to continue from the menu screen and explore the park at your leisure discovering all the places and people you didn’t meet on your first trip. But there was something very definitive about that black screen that had kicked me back to the menu that had me feeling like maybe there just wasn’t any reason to continue, and honestly there really isn’t. After finishing the game I did go back and spend a good 20 minutes exploring the park but ultimately felt completely unsatisfied by doing so. The story was over, I achieved what I had set out to do and there is no real reason to go back unless you’re desperate to chart the entire park. I feel like if the game would roll credits in a less jarring way and allow you to just continue directly as you explore the park there would be less resistance for me wanting to do so. But I really felt like the game was telling me that it was time to go, and so I did.
A Short Hike in the end was exactly what it advertised itself as. As the player you have a short point a to point b journey ahead of you. There is a lot of charm and character to fall in love with along the way, but once it’s over don’t expect to invest anything further in the game, and if you’re like me, don’t expect to feel very satisfied. I hope that A Short Hike is just a footnote to some larger project coming down the pipeline because everything in the game works for me. It’s just the minuscule playtime and lack of any real substance narratively that had me feeling a little let down here. A Short Hike is an easy recommend for only $8 on the e shop, but just know that sometimes you can judge a book by its cover. A Short Hike is exactly what it’s telling you it is. Short.