In my quest to find something to unwind with post the bulbous open world of Guerilla Games’ Horizon Forbidden West, which held my attention for 80+ hours, I needed a compact experience. Open world games tend to regularly find their way into my gaming habits, with Ghost of Tsushima (2020) and Final Fantasy XV (2016) being two of my more recent blockbuster experiences. A vast, hand-crafted AAA open world is only as interesting as its foundations, in my opinion. And in Forbidden West, though teeming with things to do and collect, the excessive sci-fi story exposition found me rushing the final few main quests just to cap the thing off. Ultimately, the magic of the open world waxed and waned, never to be as interesting as it was at first glance.
My parents own a trailer that’s parked in nowhere North Ontario, shrouded from city life by a quiet lake and the Canadian wilderness. They’ve been hounding me on our family WhatsApp group chat to visit, for months. Like many second generation millennial immigrants, any desire for extended family time evaporated during the 20+ years of sharing a personal space. But a weekend fortuitously freed up in my schedule, and no videogame was on deck to distract my wandering mind. After much insistence, I was roped into an admittedly relaxing family trip to said trailer. Three days of sitting in early summer forests does a soul good. It was the perfect weekend of daytime Latin jams, mid-afternoon small town crawls, and evening bonfires, beers and bong hits. A sweet, sweet break from the sheer amount of sci-fi possibilities in Horizon Forbidden West.
Inspired by nature’s R&R, I purchased Adam Robinson-Yu’s indie open world A Short Hike; in the wheelhouse of the open-world but nowhere as staggering as Forbidden West. Something resonated so intrinsically for me with this hours-long experience. Modelled after the Canadian wilderness and set in the fictional Hawkpeak Provincial Park, A Short Hike encourages players to stop and smell the flowers in its world. Not for skill points in a progression system, and not for in-game currency for uninteresting rewards. The free form nature of the game validates activities the player will encounter through their journey – be it collecting shells for a sassy bird-child, helping a local artist recognize their talent, or playing a round of Beachstickball. Through Robinson-Yu’s quaint, N64/16-bit presentation and text message style NPC dialogue, I’m drawn in and emotionally invested in this little world. It’s no 80-hour romp, the stakes of the world at your fingertips, but feels more akin to quality time with my family in the Ontario wilds – a spiritual refresh that will stand out in memory for years to come.
And the music! Mark Sparling immaculately captures the friendliness and coziness of Hawkpeak Provincial. The soundtrack paints my recent morning hazelnut lattes on my balcony as thoughtful exercises in reflection, to great effect. The main motif in “Beach Buds” and “Hello” tug so strongly at my heartstrings that slotting them delicately into a brooding nighttime playlist could certainly make me weep. Every track within the game ebbs and flows into each other as the player navigates through different zones in-game, but the atmosphere remains relaxed and unassuming. It’s a pleasant soundscape for some quick, happy lo-fi vibes.
A Short Hike‘s message parallels my personal ethos: enjoying every moment, seeing the joy in each moment. It comes with years of practicing gratefulness. We as working millenial adults are so trapped behind the wall of tasks, goals and circumstances, it is easy to forget everything else going on around us. I am easily victim to this, in my personal life but also in my enjoyment of my video game hobby. Relationships and personal introspection is tossed to the wayside in favour of a checklist or a shift, or a mundane gaming experience. It is like we’re constantly chasing that main quest, as pressing it may seem. But sometimes, a short side quest is enough to keep joy in rotation within our busy lives. My short hikes, both in the real Canadian wilderness and with Adam Robinson-Yu’s world, reminds me to slow down and enjoy the time as it goes by – there is no hurry, so no need to worry.
“Interview with A Short Hike Creator Adam Robinson-Yu” for Canadian Game Devs
“A review of Charles Lu, collection [1.]” for Windhill Journal