Developed By: Adam Robinson-Yu
Published By: Undefined
Category: Adventure, Platformer
Release Date: 18.08.2020
Now more than ever we witness the power video games have to shape how we interact with the world. Committed to lockdowns and isolations, we’ve come face to face with the grim reality of how we spend time, and how our media consumption alters our perception of it. In times of decreased productivity, along comes a game like A Short Hike, which in its own charming way, forces you to slow down and observe how things could be different.
Originally released last year for PC, A Short Hike has finally made its way to Nintendo Switch. It’s a natural fit for the portable indie console, and undoubtedly, comparisons to the Animal Crossing franchise have already been made. Both are games that encourage taking your time with relaxing activities, socializing with quirky animal folk, and enjoying the serene passing time. They are different games, though, and it’s to the credit of Adam Robinson-Yu’s delightful work here that they are mentioned in the same conversation.
Not unlike many of us, A Short Hike begins with its protagonist Claire waking up and reaching for her phone. Upon exiting her cabin she speaks to Ranger May, and in her search for cell service, is directed toward the wistful summit of Hawk Peak Provincial Park. From here you can lead her however you like to higher grounds. Paths diverge in a variety of directions and it’s up to you to explore or head straight to the top.
Setting off with no more than a meager set of instructions, you’ll encounter a cast of characters of every stripe taking advantage of Hawk Peak’s natural beauty. Whether it’s runners bustling through the Blackwood forest or fishers relaxing on the peer, everyone you meet is a microcosm of life in Hawk Peak. And while there’s plenty to see and do, it’s those moments of stillness where the ambient sounds of the wilderness fill the air that are some of the most beautiful.
The absence of music in some parts not only sets the tone, but it amplifies certain characteristics and idiosyncrasies of the game. The silence makes room so these elements of the game – the autumnal colors, fuzzy presentation, and soft crackle of the fire – have room to breathe. Even the dialogue in your quick chats is interspaced with frequent breaks, allowing for awkward – and often funny – pauses.
Because we’re never given an explicit timetable for our ascent, there’s no reason to hurry. This lack of immediacy simplifies the experience, which gives you time to observe. Above you are streaks of wind, suggesting possible flight. The trails and cliffs of the world you encircle reveal alternate routes. Which way is right? They all are, and eventually, you’ll discover any mode of travel – climbing, or swimming, or flight – can lead you to your goal of reconnecting.
As you move through this handcrafted world, the music does too. Mark Sparling’s dynamic soundtrack takes the edge off, moving to the rhythm of how you play and where you go. Turning a corner begins the lush strumming of a guitar; taking flight awakens a chorus of strings. Hawk Peak isn’t big (and by extension, neither is A Short Hike long) but it’s tightly woven and strikes a nice a balance between silence and music that adapts itself to the surroundings and mood.
That mood is at the heart of where A Short Hike takes you. It’s the feeling of leisurely freedom. Some basic gameplay elements and goodies to collect aside, the game is at its core about a hike. That kind of commitment to a vision in game design is hard to come by, even more so when it’s delivered in so tightly woven a package.
The gentle sights and sounds of A Short Hike are a balm to the current state of our world. It’s a getaway in the purest sense, born from Robinson-Yu’s summer trips and memories. It’s a game for everyone. Whether you’re an explorer, treasure hunter, or competitor, there’s no time wasted at Hawk Peak Provincial Park. There’s no need to fret or hurry.