Indie Game of the Week 162: A Short Hike

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I think we all need to slow down, cool off, and chill with a pleasant stroll somewhere remote, and that's what A Short Hike both promises and delivers. As melon-headed bird-person Claire, A Short Hike is not too dissimilar from Animal Crossing beyond some parallels with the character design: it tasks you with doing as much or as little as you feel like doing on its easygoing island, either chasing around collectibles, angling for valuable fish, playing mini-games with some friendly NPCs, or just climbing as high as possible and taking in the view when you get there. The game's only upgrade system are golden feathers: collectibles usually found in challenging locations to reach or given by NPCs for certain tasks. Each one expands the amount of time you can climb walls, or gain altitude while gliding, or running around the island; in effect, a similar steady progression of more impressive physical feats that Breath of the Wild's upgradeable stamina affords you. A certain amount of golden feathers are necessary for climbing to the very top of the island, which is more or less the game's only goal.

A Short Hike builds this sizeable island (and a few smaller isles nearby) for you to freely explore, but doesn't really track much in the way of completion or progress. There's no in-game total for shells and feathers, there were no achievements in the version I played as a list of possible secondary objectives to pursue, and I ceased finding anywhere to spend my growing stack of cash after buying a stylish ranger hat, so instead it seems more like a "explore until you feel like you're done exploring" situation, at which point you can return to your aunt's cabin where you started the game and have a nap, causing the credits to roll.

I played the Epic Game Store version, which meant no achievements, no screenshots, and no compatibility with this Steam Controller doorstop. At least it was free?
I played the Epic Game Store version, which meant no achievements, no screenshots, and no compatibility with this Steam Controller doorstop. At least it was free?

On the one hand I'm put out by not having a bunch of numbers and progress trackers constantly growing and feeding that lizard brain part of my whole being like a carrot on a stick dangling in front of me, but on the other I respect the game's unhurried and relaxed attitude towards not worrying about it extending even as far as the meta gameplay. I'm sure I didn't find nearly every golden feather or area of note or NPC that needed a task doing, and once I'd reached the top I felt like I was ready to call it a day and play something else. Maybe that's a knock against the game for lacking the usual staying power of collectible-heavy platformers, or maybe that feeling of ephemerality and non-commitment was part of the game's mission statement from the outset.

Instead, if I think about this game again it'll be to recall the distinctive, slightly fuzzy cel-shaded aesthetic, the wit of its wholesome script, and soaring through the air looking for the next point of interest to collect or dig up or fish or explore. In fewer words, simply a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. My time with the game may have been brief, but then it's not like they called the game An Interminable Hike.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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