While I am not really patriotic, I feel lucky to be born and raised in Norway. It comes with a lot of benefits, with one of my favourite aspects being its nature. I love going out for walks, be it alongside huge lakes, upwards tall mountains or through a thick forest. Simply just being outside in the nature, taking in the atmosphere and enjoying an aimless journey, is relaxing to me. This is also why I find myself easily drawn to adventure titles like The Legend of Zelda-series, Eastshade, and in general medieval RPGs. Because of this, a short hike could honestly sell me on its title alone. However, I was just as intrigued by its style, since it was rather reminiscent of 3D titles made for the Nintendo DS instead of either the PS1 or the N64. An interesting choice to be sure, and one I believe fits as handheld titles are more suited for shorter game-sessions. Despite establishing that it is a short trip, is this hike still worth taking?
“Hello there! Enjoying the outdoors yourself?”
It is hard to say whether a short hike focuses on story or not, since it boils down to you playing as the anthropomorphic bird Claire who is just going camping with her aunt at a cabin. The first morning there, Clair’s aunt recommends her to take a hike up towards “Hawk Peak” for a lovely stroll, to see the beautiful view from atop and in order to get reception for her phone. With not much else to do, Claire takes a trip towards the mountain.
I love a simple premise like this as it fits perfectly to the minimalistic approach the game goes for and gives you exactly what it promises: a short hike. However, despite that a short hike does not contain a focused plot, it does present a clear atmosphere through the events and characters you can come across. There are many colourful personalities and situations to witness or interact with, such as a climbing club where they wish for more members, a painter trying to find his best motive, or just a kid needing help to gather shells. All the dialogues are well written to give each character a memorable setup and characteristics, and making the entire experience simply heartwarming.
While the journey is great and lets you take in whatever you encounter at your own pace, the amount of screentime each character gets is inconsistent. Some are there for only two occasions, while others can be recurring NPCs throughout the journey, making attachment to these simple characters uneven. This is a minor nitpick, but one issue that confused me, was what happened when you reached the top. There is a twist at the end that comes out of nowhere and felt shoehorned in due to not being built up at all. However, once I got back to the cabin and reminiscent of my journey, I realised just how delightful my short journey was. Short, but definitely sweet.
Story Score: 7/10
Just take it at your own pace
a short hike can probably be best described as a walking game, as the focus is on you simply travelling up the mountain, yet encourages you to explore the environment if you want to, similar to an adventure game. There are signposts and pathways to take you to your goal at the top of the peak, but there will be different characters, varied naturalistic setups and unique constructions to take your eyes off the road and make you want to find out what is going on outside of the main tracks. In fact, exploration is the key to get to the top easier.
Before we get to that, I want to talk about your abilities for hiking. Besides walking, Claire is a bird and thus can jump, glide and climb. However, the abilities she has, while supportive, is not enough to reach the top due to dangerous cliffs, broken bridges and steep hills to climb. Even exploring more of the general area for extra goodies, will require more support.
This is where your only form of bar comes into play. Claire does not have a health-bar as there is nothing that can damage or kill you in this game, including the lack of any form of falling damage. Instead, you can gather golden feathers that will serve as permanent upgrades to your stamina, which can either be used for an extra jump or for climbing, each draining the feathers in different amounts. In order to regain stamina, you simply need to find a safe surface to stand on and take a breather.
This is a smart use for the stamina-bar, as it focuses on expanding your capabilities of exploring or in order to reach the top quickly. Platforming skills can be tested, but more through you looking for clever ledges to take a break on, or where there might be more secrets, which continues the lovely focus on exploration. The developer even added inn some nice variety, such as watering sprouts to make flower-trampolines from, or using hot springs to recover your stamina in, since you cannot do it otherwise in the winter section.
Adding to this enjoyable hike, are the side-activities as they are varied and enhances the exploration or taking in the atmosphere. They can be about collecting shells for a small girl, test your climbing skills, or even fishing. All tasks are simple, but fun to take on as they require enough input from the player and a keen eye to keep you invested. General treasure hunting is also valid, and I appreciate that you have a simple inventory where everything has a use, like the compass for telling which direction north is. You can also hold one item at the time to use, like a shovel for digging up hidden treasures. Through this, there will be no shortage of elements to find or gather, making it overall fun to adventure around this island.
While there is a lot to do, the game is beatable within an hour and a half. It is severely short, but offers what it advertises and although it was over before I knew it, I can’t help but to admit that the adventure was a lovely one with memorable activities and something that will quickly pull me back for another go. Short adventures can be wonderful, even if they end abruptly.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
What a lovely day
I find taking on the capabilities of the DS for mimicking hardware limitations, being a neat upgrade from the 32/64 bit consoles. This is a fantastic approach, because it strengthens the minor details of the world and its characters better than the console limitations could, with great use of colours to highlight significant elements. While it is not a huge island, there is a good selection of different areas to visit in order to make it vibrant. Beaches, forests, small valleys, and snowy mountains to name a few, all are nice and contain naturally transitions between each other, with inhabitants co-existing with the nature and not taking advantage of it. A great example, is a simple fisherman hut in the high up by a lake, which adds to make each area more connected to those who lives there.
I also love how everything is in 3D with no 2D sprites implemented, which is impressive! In fact, the effects and textures are wonderful at masking the system’s shortcomings, like lines replicating the wind blowing, the white patterns in the water to mimic motions, and even waterfalls splashes are just huge drops. This is really a lovely touch, as it represents the Nintendo DS’ capabilities and rather celebrates its creative ways to hide its blemishes, in order to keep the immersion strong. I also love how the draw-distance is handled, by just providing outlines and fog to tease the player that there is something in the distance, making it work lovely for visually hinting that there is more to this world.
It is genuinely heartwarming to see someone care so much about a product and really goes the extra mile to make sure it keeps the limitations it set out to utilise. I do hope the creator is proud of this. Furthermore, all the characters are different from one another in colour, type and even attire, making them adorable and recognisable by their looks alone. Their charm is further enhanced by their gibberish clutter of voice-samples, as they are different depending on who you are talking to, adding more to make the NPCs feel unique from one another.
The same love was given to the music. It is relaxing and for the lack of a better word: sweet. It tries to create a calm atmosphere using violin, guitar and other stock sounds that is limited by the hardware for the simple addition of authenticity. It contains short, but nice tones that are easy to listen to and varied enough to make you engaged. The composer of Shantae 4 worked on this, and I am really impressed by the varied setups this man can take on.
Sadly, there is one fatal problem I have with this game’s presentation, besides its small scope. There are a couple of assets used in this game that I have seen in Animal Crossing that feels blatant. The crosses for where to dig for treasures, sprouts for watering, and even the fish in the water, seems to be taken directly from that series. I do believe the creator had his best intentions when making this game, as this is a well crafted title, but I cannot deny the similarities and question them. Still, it is hard to complain about the mud under your boots when the view of the nature alone is nice.
Presentation Score: 7.5/10
Breath of the wild under your wings
As stated earlier, there are a lot of side-activities to take on and all are fun to tackle. Treasure hunting for feathers, helping characters find something or just chat with them for the enjoyment of it, all feels valuable to do. This is actually a key element: even if I did not need any more feathers, the tasks and characters were enough to pull me back. There are some in-game achievements that are nice, but I was more into the unlockable speedrun mode, that made revisits enthralling. In all honesty, I played through this game right away after my first run simply because of how fun it was. While it is still short and the extras can only add a couple of extra hours, I see myself returning to this island for a sweet and short virtual hike multiple times.
Extra Score: 8/10
You are given what the title presents, and it is a lovely short hike I can easily see myself take on multiple times. a short hike showcases that size does not matter, but it is how you use it. It lets you explore at your pace with engaging platforming and intriguing world to get lost in. With its colourful characters, charming locations, and good replay value for those seeking more, a short hike provides a quick trip that everyone should at least experience once.