The Great Outdoors

HIGH The unlimited gliding feels amazing.

LOW Being unable to find the boat again after seeing it once.

WTF That signal reception area is *tiny*.

Nothing makes me happier than hearing oodles of positive buzz about a game and then finding the buzz to be true. A Short Hike pinged my indie radar as soon as it launched in 2019, but I didn’t have easy access to it. Now that it’s on Switch — and a perfect fit, at that — I’m happy to report that the wait was worth it.

The premise is simple. The player takes the role of a bird named Claire who’s going camping with her aunt. The aunt stays at the camp located at the foot of a mountain, but encourages Claire to climb to the peak — the view is reported to be amazing, but it’s also the only place for miles where cellphones get reception.

Along the way to the summit, Claire will meet other campers who’ll chat with her, invite her to share in their activities, and a few might have some goodies to gift. But by and large, A Short Hike is just about being on the mountain and taking it all in.

A Short Hike looks adorable. The menu offers a choice between chunky pixels and small pixels, and while I chose the small pixels, it looks great either way. The characters are pleasantly rounded, the colors are bright and everything is easily readable. It’s got the feel of a child’s playset with all the sharp edges rounded off, and has a lot in common with Animal Crossing in terms of look and feel.

The dialogue is cute and witty, and I had more than a few moments where a character said something that I wasn’t expecting, yet it made perfect sense and fit with the vibe. The script has as much personality as the visuals, which I appreciated.

Equally strong is the gameplay in A Short Hike. When Nintendo’s Breath of the Wild redefined wandering through an open world, critical circles wondered what the impact of being able to climb nearly anything and glide nearly anywhere would be. I wasn’t expecting to see it here, but that design has clearly influenced Claire’s relationship to the mountain she’s on — she can cling to, climb on and glide from anything she sees.

The peak is extremely vertical and full of hills and valleys. There are many trails to aid in Claire’s ascent and to guide her from area to area, but many sections are inaccessible and out of reach, so Claire must find Golden Feathers to increase her mountaineering stamina. The more feathers she has, the longer and higher she can go.

In addition to the feathers, Claire will find it handy to collect coins found throughout the environment and earned for performing tasks for some of the other campers — things like running a race with them, participating in a volleyball-like match, finding and returning lost items, and so forth. By engaging with the campers and exploring the land, Claire will rack up resources that will aid her ascent.

Once Claire climbs something, she has easy access to getting back down by gliding anytime she wishes. As a bird, all she’s got to do is jump off of a high spot and spread her wings. She can glide for as long as she wishes, easily covering vast horizontal distances. The mechanics of gliding feel smooth and comfortable, and with few limits and no fall damage, this mode of transportation is heartily encouraged.

A Short Hike is a simple, small, straightforward experience that delivers a truckload of charm via the simple pleasure of exploring a mountainside without punishment or negative consequence. It does what it does well, and the experience ends exactly the way it should, exactly when it should. Well done!

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by adamgryu and published by Whippoorwill Limited. It is currently available on Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the Switch.Approximately 4 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains no descriptors. No sex, no violence, no salty language… Not even any game overs or damage from falling. If there’s a safer adventure to take than this one, I have no idea what it could be.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: I played the entire game on mute and had no issues. Dialogue is subtitled, but text cannot be altered or resized. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Brad Gallaway
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