A Short Hike Is the Most Charming Indie Adventure on Xbox Game Pass
Brief but unforgettable.
Chill games have exploded in popularity recently, as players have grown fond of experiences that prioritize relaxation over fisticuffs. These kinds of games aren’t necessarily new, but have become more abundant in recent years thanks to experiences such as Stardew Valley, Untitled Goose Game, and Donut County.
One of the best of the bunch is A Short Hike, which has just become available on Xbox Game Pass. This laid-back experience is refreshing, charming, and respectful of the player’s time. Despite clocking in at just around 90 minutes of gameplay, A Short Hike feels just as meaningful as a large-scale AAA game.
In A Short Hike, you play as Claire, an anthropomorphic bird who is on vacation at Hawk Peak Provincial Park. Right away, we learn Claire is expecting an important phone call — but most of the park doesn’t get reception. The premise is simple: Reach the top of the mountain to get cell service, so Claire can take her call.
Along the way, Claire can also talk with other park visitors to get to know them and help them out, adding a bit of flavor throughout. This is easily one of the best parts of the game, with witty writing that shines brightly.
As its name suggests, A Short Hike is ... short. You can finish it in one sitting, but its brief length does not hinder the experience. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. This is one of its strengths, as it adds to the low-stress, low-commitment vibe that makes it so enjoyable. Since it's so short — no more than two hours long — the game’s pacing is blisteringly fast, constantly introducing new places to explore, characters to meet, and rewards to unlock. But the fast pacing is never overwhelming, as A Short Hike is always calm and easygoing.
To reach the top, you’ll need to collect feathers all around the park, of which there are only a handful. Much like the carrots Epona eats in The Legend of Zelda series, these feathers give Claire more stamina to reach the top. The more feathers you find, the farther Claire can jump, eventually allowing her to get to the peak.
Unlocking these feathers is a key aspect of the game, but how you find them is pretty open-ended. In total, there are 20 feathers in the game, but you only need seven to reach Hawk Peak, giving you plenty of wiggle room. This is such a nice touch, as it ensures you can stumble upon the required feathers with little effort. Sure, if you want to find all of them, it’ll take a few hours, but making a beeline to the end of the game is a brief process, perfect for those without much free time.
While A Short Hike mostly focuses on exploration, it also offers light platforming, fishing, and includes collecting mechanics, as well. This keeps things fresh by throwing lots of different little features at you without feeling overbearing.
Tying everything together is a stunning presentation that evokes fond memories of playing SNES games. This is thanks to its pixilated visual style that somehow feels low-fi and highly detailed all at once. The color palette is gorgeous, and the animations are fluid, and everything feels cozy thanks to the visuals.
On top of that, A Short Hike’s soundtrack is fantastic is inspiring, with tracks that will surely motivate you to keep climbing. Impressively, the game utilizes a dynamic soundtrack that adapts to the weather and where you are in the game. This means you’ll experience the swelling of a song as the wind blows hard, for example, constantly giving you something new.
A Short Hike is easily one of the greatest indie games of the past several years. Its short length is an asset that broadens its appeal, while roping players in with its gorgeous art, music, and clever writing. Thankfully, you don’t have to spend any extra money to get your hands on it since it’s part of the Xbox Game Pass lineup now.