It can be terribly frustrating to not have a signal on your phone, particularly if you're waiting for an important phone call. Who hasn't waved their phone around in the air in a futile attempt to snatch the tiniest sliver of a connection? Perhaps you might step outside, cross the road, maybe hike up a mountain, just to get that call.
Claire is a young bird spending her summer in Hawk Peak Provincial Park with her Aunt May a ranger. She's waiting for an important call, but May tells her that the only place to get a signal on the island is at the top of Hawk Peak itself. While Claire has visited the park before she has never attempted to reach the summit before and it seems a daunting task.
A Short Hike gives you an open world to explore as Claire, though where you can reach will be decided by how many gold feathers you have. These let you either jump mid-air or provide stamina as you climb up walls. The more you get, the further you go. You can reach the peak with fewer than half of the feathers available in the game which means you're a lot more free in what you do when playing.
Dotted around the island are various animals to chat to and help out, often with a golden feather as a reward. Claire is a very positive person in her interactions with them, I particularly enjoyed how supportive she is of a struggling artist you meet at various beauty spots. The writing is great with characters conveyed wittily in brief lines. Races, lost items and fishing will all distract you from your trip up to the peak, charming you all the way.
The game lives up to the word short in its title, you'll probably reach the peak the first time in under two hours. But this is absolutely a positive thing. Exploring the island is quick and easy. There's no need for fast travel because you can get everywhere rapidly. You'll wander off the beaten path happily because it'll never take you long to get back on track. It is a wonderful, condensed, experienced and one a lot of bloated, expansive games could learn from.
A Short Hike has that joyous freedom of movement that you get in 3D Mario games. It rewards experimentation, engenders curiosity and makes the game feel wonderful. You can glide through the air and dive to pick up speed, like Mario 64's wing cap meets Breath Of The Wild's paraglider. Any game that features some sort of verticality should be required to have gliding of this calibre in it by law.
Reaching the peak reminded me of the end of Journey and there is a similar feeling of catharsis with the sense that Claire can finally relax and enjoy her summer on the island. Even after I'd found the summit, the tiny island still contained secrets for me to find and characters I wanted to help. While she may still have no signal, Claire ends the game more connected.