When discussing video games, people like to talk about their expectations. I am not talking about spoilers here, because a meta discussion of spoilers is the most unintersting thing I can think of. I am talking about people saying things like: “I guess I expected too much.” Or this one: “Wow! My already high expectations were even exceeded”. It is generally assumed that an unbiased game experience is better and that disappointments are not only disappointing, but that they make the game itself worse somehow. I make such statements myself, but after giving it some thought I now think that notion is nothing but utter nonsense.
A good game cannot be diminished by having expected even more of it. You find it just as good as… you find it. Due to my personal taste in games, I have recently been recommended indie games like FAR: Lone Sails, Yoku’s Island Express, Return of the Obra Dinn, Untitled Goose Game and many more. I followed all of those recommendations with more or less similar expectations (that I would like them!). The surprising result: I liked them all differently! And when someone trustworthy told me: “Play A Short Hike, you’ll probably like it”, I did as they said. And I expected to like it. The trailer told me pretty much exactly what kind of game it was: A short feel-good game with likeable dialogues and a touching story. Been there, done that. But you also listen to records from bands you have heard one of before. What I mean to say is: What’s good is good.
The game starts in front of a cabin on a small island. A bird called Claire visits her aunt for a few days and finds out that she has no phone reception. Ah yes. Teenage brat is dependent on her mobile, gives off all kinds of smart oneliners and discovers the beauty of nature on her way to her technical world. So Claire indeed discovers a variety of beautiful places and meets friendly people who help or ask for help, who offer to race her or invite her to a game of beachstickball. Ah yes. Sidequests and hurdles that make the game experience wider. Talk to all the characters. Explore. Inhale. Despite me recognizing every single aspect of the game from previous gaming experiences, I enjoyed the game and wondered in what way the ending would touch me, because part of my expectations was just that.
And yes, there was a touching story twist right there at the end. You see, Claire is not a spoiled smartphone brat who discovers her love for nature over the course of the day. She was sent to her aunt by her mother because her mother had to undergo risky surgery of which she hadn’t told Claire anything. It’s a well-written, emotional twist that takes place up there on the highest peak and I could write another text for Wall Jump about it. And if the game stopped here, it would be a solid, heartwarming indie game. But it’s not about this moment, it’s about the place – the island of “A Short Hike”. Because after you reach the climax of the game, you get the opportunity to glide back down and circle the whole island you’ve been exploring, climbing and experiencing, along with all the wonderful characters you’ve encountered. And that’s when I noticed just how well everything fits together. I landed back where I had started and approached Claire’s aunt who asked about Claire’s day. Claire recounted her day enthusiastically, remembering more and more weird and beautiful little stories. And suddenly, all the mini-games and tutorials and game-extending measures became real experiences. It was just a wonderful day without anything extraordinary happening. Everything I had witnessed became an experience.
Only by pressing “A” again to talk to Claire’s aunt once more after that dialogue, Claire talkes about the conversation with her mother. And when this dialog is over as well and you actively talk to her a third time, Claire says only this: “I’m really glad I came“. That’s when the game took me in its feathered arms. I felt just the same as Claire. I was really glad having played the game. And it only became clear to me with this last line of text. I knew what to expect when I started the game. But I did not know what to expect.
A Short Hike is a one-person project by Canadian developer adamgryu, first released in 2019 and available for PC and Nintendo Switch. It follows a similar dialogue style as Night in the Woods and Wandersong and doesn’t have to hide behind either of them. My expectations for the next project are immense!
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