Over the festive break we’ll be running through our top 20 picks of the year’s best games, leading up to the reveal of Eurogamer’s game of the year on New Year’s Eve. You can find all the pieces published to date here – and thanks for joining us throughout the year!
Following up on a hunch is the most satisfying thing, isn’t it? Someone asks for something in a game, and chances are you won’t have it. Often, what they want is a complete mystery. You continue playing and almost forget about it. And then! It falls into your lap, almost by accident. Even if you don’t remember where exactly it’s supposed to go, or what it’s for, you probably have a feeling in your gut, enough to drop everything and see if the pieces fit. And when they do, that feeling of getting it right is like nothing else.
Adventure and exploration games do this best, and whereas most have these moments humming along in the background – the trading sequence quest in one of the year’s best remakes, Zelda: Link’s Awakening, is a brilliant example – A Short Hike is all about these mini revelations.
The goal of A Short Hike is to scale the highest mountain on a holiday island. Starting your journey from the bottom, you skirt past lush forests and sun-bleached beaches, pinging between one holiday-goer to the next, learning about their hobbies and some rumours of what’s hidden all around you as you climb.
In no time at all, you reach the foot at the mountain. To scale it, you need a number of special items – double-jump enabling feathers – and so you must set off to find them. This is when the game leans into its 32 and 64-bit trappings the most, harking back to the likes of collect-a-thon platformers such as Banjo Kazooie, as you realise feathers can be found everywhere – but all just out of reach.
Thankfully, you already have some idea of where to start looking. Perhaps it’s tracking down a roving artist you first spotted earlier, or seeking out a lighthouse mentioned in passing conversation. Maybe you need to pay the gift shop a visit, or search some of the out of view cliff tops. The more you discover, the more you realise where others might be. Even the most seemingly isolated activities – collecting loose seashells, or coming across a watering can, perhaps – can give you something, perhaps the eureka moment you were looking for to connect the dots elsewhere, and gift you one more feather to further your ascent.
There’s so much to love about A Short Hike – the way it looks and feels, with its low-res, isometric perspective you can tug at with the right analogue stick; the chunky coins that spill on the ground when uncovered; and the sound of strings kicking in as you soar high above the island’s parameter. But what I appreciated most is the density of the island, and how it teases its secrets just enough for you to go on an adventure far richer than games many times of its length because of it.