A Short Hike

A Short Hike was released for Nintendo Switch about three weeks ago, and my only regret is that I waited so long to download it.

You play as an anthropomorphic bird named Claire who’s spending the weekend on holiday visiting her Aunt May in Hawk Peak Provincial Park, and your goal is to climb to the top of the mountain so that you can get reception on your phone. Since you’re a bird, you can jump down and glide whenever and wherever you feel the need. You can also fly for short periods of time, and you can collect Golden Feather upgrades to extend your flying time. There’s no combat, no danger, and no puzzles to solve. Although you’re free to go anywhere you like, the main climbing trail is clearly marked. If you get lost, you can just jump down and glide to an earlier point on the trail. It’s all very relaxing, and the soundtrack is adaptive, meaning that the music changes depending on the altitude and weather.

Because the game is so overtly referential, I don’t think it’s lazy to call it a cross between Animal Crossing and Night in the Woods. Some of the (completely optional) mechanics, such as fishing and digging up X marks on the ground, are pure Animal Crossing, as are the character designs. The dialogue never gets grim or dark, but it’s a little weirder and less performatively wholesome than Animal Crossing. The writing is unobtrusive but clever, and Claire has a lot in common with Mae from Night in the Woods.

Meanwhile, the exploration elements are very Legend of Zelda, and the game looks a lot like Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, from the cell shading to the head-to-body proportions to the 3D modeling of the landscape. There’s an option to increase the frame rate and make the graphics less pixelated, but the Nintendo DS style visual atmosphere is lovely even if you don’t harbor any particular nostalgia for that era of gaming.

If you go straight up and down the mountain, the game takes maybe half an hour to play, but you can easily spend another half hour going off on side trails and having conversations with the various people you meet during your climb. I imagine that you could spend even more time with the game if you wanted to find every Golden Feather and record every species of fish in your journal, but the game’s menu screen isn’t set up in a way that makes you feel compelled to do so.

I’ve read a few reviews that criticized A Short Hike for being too, well, short, but I don’t think that’s a problem. I am no stranger to the task of collecting all 900 forest sprite poos or evolving all 900+ species of battle monsters or getting all of my fantasy fighters to Level 99, but I also love being surprised and delighted by short, self-contained, and immensely satisfying small-studio games.

I’m not sure how I feel about Nintendo asking $20 for this game, which is a bit expensive for its category, but honestly that seems like a reasonable price to pay for the experience of a solid hour of uninterrupted joy.

Pokémon Sword and Shield

I started playing Pokémon Sword on December 4, and I beat the game last night. It took a little more than 42 hours, which is the result of me playing about half an hour a day for the past two and a half months.

I feel like I spent most of my time with Pokémon Sword goofing off in the Wild Area, dressing my character in ridiculous outfits, and figuring out to make truly bizarre unique league cards. I really enjoyed myself.

What I appreciate about this generation of Pokémon games is that, partially thanks to the open-world style Wild Area, the player can create a diverse and balanced team from the start, which means that you can set up your team within two or three hours and then not have to worry about level grinding or otherwise catching up under-leveled pokémon. All the creatures on my team were at level 70 at the end of the game, and they’d all been with me since the first gym battle. I caught 225 species of pokémon without really trying, but it was just for fun.

Compared to previous generations, Pokémon Sword and Shield don’t have much of an overarching story, but I love the location and the characters. I played about half of the game in handheld mode and the other half on my television. I’ve always wanted to play a Pokémon game in widescreen high definition, and this was everything I ever dreamed of. Each of the towns and cities is gorgeous, and the big stadium battles are phenomenal. The major characters have all sorts of interesting microexpressions and small animation flourishes that help you get a sense of their personalities, and their designs are attractive and eye-catching.

It will probably not surprise anyone that I have a crush on Chairman Rose, who tries very hard to be evil but comes off as goofy and adorable. Early on in the game, Rose shows up “incognito” to have lunch with your character at a fancy restaurant in one of the most fantastically Eurotrash outfits I have ever had the pleasure to behold. I was so inspired by his ridiculous combination of sportswear and beachwear that I spent the entire game hyper-focused on earning money so that I could buy clothes and achieve the same glorious antithesis of style.

By the time the player has their final showdown against Rose in the creepy ambient glow of shattered test tubes with a “One-Winged Angel” style choral piece as the BGM, my character was a complete and utter eyesore. I hope Rose was proud of me.

I had a lot of fun with Pokémon Sword. I recently saw – on Twitter, I think? – someone say that there are three main genres of video games: Men With Guns, It’s About Depression, and Nintendo. I totally get that, and I appreciate that Pokémon Sword and Shield are strong “Nintendo” games in the sense that they don’t take themselves too seriously and allow you to play them in whatever way you like. I’m not super-invested in the DLC, but I think it might be nice to return to the Galar region when new content is available this summer.

Hollow Knight

I’m a big fan of the aesthetic of Hollow Knight, and I got the collector’s edition from Fangamer when the game came out on the Nintendo Switch. I absolutely loved the first hour or two of gameplay. The world is gorgeous, the gameplay is a lot of fun, and the writing is lovely.

When I got to the first boss, however, I died. And then I died again, and then I died again. And then I died again. It’s not that this boss is particularly difficult; it’s just that it has a ton of health while you have relatively little. The fight is therefore an endurance test in which you can’t make any mistakes. This is particularly unpleasant because, once the boss starts breaking out new attacks and movement patterns, you’ve already been in the fight for a relatively long time and have probably already lost some health.

When I took to the internet to figure out what was going on, I found a lot of posts saying that Hollow Knight is a brutally punishing game, and that sometimes people can take hours to make it through a boss fight.

I then tried to search for “Hollow Knight easy mode,” and that was a mistake. Oh my, the “real gamer” discourse these children engage in.

I remember really loving Super Metroid as a kid. It was much too difficult for me and my small brain and tiny hands, so I used a Game Genie as something like a set of training wheels until I got good enough to play it on my own. I ended up spending more than a hundred hours playing the game instead of just one or two, and this hurt no one. I had a game, and I played it, and it was fun. I liked exploring the world and discovering its secrets while listening to the soundtrack; and, if this isn’t “how the developers intended the game to be played,” it didn’t matter, because my parents paid money for the game and I owned it.

This is more or less the same thing I’m interested in when it comes to Hollow Knight – exploring the world and discovering its secrets while listening to the soundtrack. Because of one boss fight at the beginning of the game, however, there’s no way I can do this. I now own a very pretty $70 game that I could only play for a little more than two hours, and it’s frustrating.

I wonder, would it really hurt the developers to include an easy mode?