Hiking in the digital wilderness of A Short Hike is a reminder of the small joys of stretching your legs out on the trails. Its pixelated habitat is saturated with the familiar sights and sounds of the backcountry in real life–like the bubbling of a sluggish stream through the woods or greeting fellow hikers as they trek along the steep edges of grassy plateaus. As a young canary named Claire, one of the first characters you’ll come across is a pint-sized frog at the beach in Hawk Peak Provincial Park, who’s clearly struggling with building a sandcastle. Her problem, unfortunately, is that she’s heaving a full-sized shovel about, a clunky tool unfit for the refined job of sand sculpting. You can hand her a toy shovel, and over time, see her modest sandcastle gradually expand into a sprawling sand empire–simply a charming, heart-swelling sight.
This is just one of the many minute scenes you’ll embrace in A Short Hike, an exploration title about trudging across a park’s hilly terrains and muddy routes. It’s a game with a simple, singular objective: Trek towards the summit of Hawk Peak Mountain, as that’s the only place with any cellphone reception. While this sounds scant, there are plenty of activities you’ll need to busy yourself with in order to get to the top. You can collect seashells and sticks along the way, help other hikers out with their problems, or cast your hook into the tranquil rivers in hopes of snagging a rare fish. Doing these tend to net you some rewards, be it in the form of gold feathers–one of the most essential items in the game–or an assortment of tools and accessories. While some of these are purely cosmetic, others unlock more abilities for Claire, like the capacity to sprint, fly further, or bounce high on the island’s fantastical plants.
It’s tempting to see these as mere side-quests to complete, but that defeats the point of these experiences–the real reward is in enjoying the plain beauty of these mundane moments. That’s by no means a narrative flaw; it’s these small instances that encapsulate the grandeur of traversing through A Short Hike’s large, mountainous landscapes. Interactions with fellow visitors, like following along on an anxious painter’s journey to seek inspiration in nature, an elusive endeavour even in this picturesque landscape, usually culminate in heartwarming conclusions. Other encounters also make for quietly humorous anecdotes, much like a private joke you recall sharing with close friends.