A Short Hike – a Compact Yet Beautiful Adventure (Review)
In modern-day video games, open-world design has become synonymous with adventure on a grand scale. As the industry continues to add depth and breadth to these designs, the amount of content has increased exponentially. From open fields to endless side quests, the growing magnitude in games has left many players feeling overwhelmed and drained. After struggling through my own backlog of paralyzing open-world games, I was in desperate need of a more compact experience. Following a brief search of the Nintendo eShop, my attention finally rested upon an indie title that offered a complete adventure in less than two hours of gameplay: A Short Hike.
A Short Hike (Review)
A Unique Interpretation of Pixel Art
From the opening cutscene, A Short Hike’s art style is captivating. My nostalgia for early ’90s pixel art is strong, but the game employs an art style that I have never seen before in video games. The wind and ocean visuals immediately reminded me of the cel-shaded graphics from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker; however, the overall aesthetic still adopts the tenants of pixel art. The combination of these two techniques creates a world that is expressive and colorful yet sentimental and nostalgic.
One of the most important pillars of open-world exploration is camera control. Having complete control over the camera empowers players the to focus on select areas in vast and open worlds. While the freedom of choice is riveting, players can quickly feel overwhelmed and become fearful of missing content.
A Short Hike exchanges the traditional concept of camera control for a more clever solution. Although players can still pan the camera to a degree, the game intentionally restricts the camera to create grandeur. Once Claire reaches a key landmark or climbs difficult terrain, the camera will often zoom out, which adds perspective by displaying larger portions of the world. Instead of feeling restricted, players will welcome the opportunity to sit back and enjoy the view.
Breadcrumbs for Exploration
Although the camera creates subtle hints for exploration, A Short Hike provides clearer direction through the medium of currency. From the opening minutes of the game, currency is vital to progression, but unlike most adventure games, A Short Hike does not rely on quests to earn cash. In lieu of the traditional approach, the game uses coins as breadcrumb trails to suggest important areas. During my playthrough, these paths led me to discover new landscapes, NPCs and abilities. The more secrets I uncovered, the more I appreciated this subtle motivation for exploration.
Breath of the Wild innovated on open-world design in several areas, but exploration was at the heart of its progression system. As players completed shrines, they earned the ability to upgrade the stamina wheel, which allowed for greater vertical exploration. This approach created a self-perpetuating system, which incentivized players to locate shrines and explore new heights.
A Short Hike adopts a similar tactic. Early in the adventure, players quickly learn the importance of acquiring feathers. Each quill allows Claire to flap her wings and reach new heights, and players must acquire seven feathers to summit Hawk Peak. While an NPC sells the first feather from the Visitor’s Center, most of the remaining 19 plumes require exploration. In similar fashion to Breath of the Wild, the game encourages exploration by rewarding players with progression.
Meaningful Non-Playable Characters (NPCs)
As modern games expand in size and scope, developers struggle to fill worlds with interesting and distinct NPCs. The result is a growing number of game worlds with meaningless NPCs, which can detract from an immersive experience. In addition, the dialogue options are often singular and serve as nothing more than filler content.
A Short Hike ensures that every character is genuine and meaningful. Dialogue is critical as most NPCs will tell personal stories that lead to quests or new discoveries. As Claire solves problems for the island’s residents, players uncover motivations that are surprisingly emotional and personal. For example, I helped a broke college student pay off his loan, which helped me reach the summit. Moreover, I also boosted the confidence of an insecure artist and discovered new landmarks. Each encounter felt authentic, and dialogue was shockingly personal and relatable.
The timeless adage is that “good things come in small packages”; however, most people typically select the larger option. Do not fall into the same trap. While most players will roll credits in under two hours, A Short Hike offers a compact adventure that is deeply emotional and enjoyable. For less than $10 USD on Steam and the Nintendo eShop, the game is an affordable and worthwhile experience.
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