One of the vistas of A Short Hike, a casual adventure game.

A Short Hike is a casual exploration adventure game from adamgyru. I know am by no means the first to be to make this analogy, but A Short Hike is pretty much a one-take Animal Crossing, with a well-woven yet gracefully casual narrative.

You’re Claire, a bird that’s stuck on a trip, desperate for cell reception. Distressed by not being able to get an urgent call, your Aunt May tells you that you may be able to get cell reception at the top of Hawk Peak Provincial Park.

Distraction is the name of the game here. Sure, you have your plan to get to the summit of Hawk Peak, but while you’re working on that quest, the various animals send you every which way. You are in control of the best use of your time in this game—if you want to explore around, go fishing for hours, or stroll around and chat with fellow hikers, it’s all your choice. There’s no way to go wrong. It’s vacation time, and everyone in Hawk Peak Provincial Park is happy to see you, wants to help you or has a small task for you.

The racoon painter I found in A Short Hike.

  • it’s been one of those days
  • would you say you feel lost and directionless?
  • um, maybe
  • well, I’ve got just the thing for you—take my compass.

As one example of an encounter on this adventure, I encountered a raccoon that was painting the beautiful landscapes around Hawk Peak. While their paintings were lovely, they kept feeling like their paintings were missing an angle. In my first encounter with the raccoon, I complimented their portrayal of the coastline. Still, they expressed dissatisfaction, expressing that they’re achieving “a more abstract look.” Each time you meet them, they’re working on a different landscape, and they’ve got a distinct impression of their painting. It’s adorable and immensely relatable—I never quite like my own work.

A Short Hike is also a bit of a collect-a-thon. Sticks, shells, coins, feathers, or fish—you can find just about anything strewn about the world. And there’s almost always a use for these items. Jen, a fellow bird, wants shells to make into a necklace. Sue is a sweet rabbit who lost her lucky red headband. You can take on the task to help them out!

This cat is missing their camping permit in A Short Hike.

  • where’d you leave the permit
  • you’re not gonna believe me
  • what?
  • a fish ate it
  • come on…that does seem a little fishy

This game crossed my radar because of the hype, which is well-deserved. I’ve been a bit of a stress-ball the past few days, and this gave me two much-needed hours of chill. The PS1-style super-pixelated world is beautiful, and the soundtrack is one you’d want to listen to even outside the game.

A Short Hike is rated as “Overwhelmingly Positive” on Steam, which is just about right. (Don't forget that buying on itch supports the creator more, and you get a Steam key, too.) You should take some time and enjoy a A Short Hike through Hawk Peak Provincial Park yourself.

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A screenshot of a replay of John Wick Hex, showing John Wick and an enemy pointing their guns at each other.

John Wick Hex is an action strategy game developed by Bithell Games. Billed as a prequel to the John Wick film series, it's a timeline-based action game that puts you deep inside the tactical mind of John Wick.

Who is the Baba Yaga?

So, John Wick is the "Baba Yaga," a title loosely inspired by a Slavic term for an old chaotic witch. But here, it more or less means that "even the Boogeyman would be scared of him." And boy, there sure are Boogeymen here. Hex, an antagonist, developed for the game, kidnaps Winston and Charon. Each new map area is a "scene" set up for you to face a powerful enemy from John Wick's past, before the first movie.

A top down view in the first level of John Wick Hex, showing off the vibrant game style.

This game is heavily stylized in a vibrant and flashy cyberpunk style. The UI is bright, and enemies die in sprays of neon pink blood.

True to the name, Hexes are everything in John Wick Hex. You move about the on a hexagonal grid. Because the levels are designed on a hex grid, but our everyday world on hexes, you don't exactly flow through spaces cleanly. When you first encounter John Wick ping-ponging and serpentining through a hallway, initially it's jarring but later becomes a bit endearing.

Even the final battle against Hex, a mob boss who prefers to stay out of sight, takes place in a Hex shaped room.

A screenshot of John Wick Hex, showing the timeline and game UI, with a the menu of potential actions open.

Watch the timeline

This game is essentially chess, but with guns and melee attacks instead of knights and rooks. You're always thinking about your decisions, and how it'll affect your timing for other incoming attacks from enemies. Mechanically, it's a bit of a cross-breed of the precise action dynamics of Superhot coupled with the tactical calculations of XCOM.

Playing as John Wick, you've got a limited set of actions—like "shoot" and "push"—that dictate how you interact with the world around you. You're free to move about, but every action—including movement—takes time. The timeline auto pauses when your queued action completes, or when there's a new interruption.

When you're scrapping it out against enemies, some actions are faster than others. A takedown is usually pretty useful, but it's a bit slow and needs melee proximity. A push against one enemy might get you out of the range of gunfire from a 2nd attacker. Parrying is an effective rapid response to a close enemy that's attacking, which generally enables you to edge in before their attack fires. You know the drill. On deck is the need to anticipate the moves of the people in the world—and sometimes it's better to wait.

A cutscene screenshot of Osborn, one of John Wick Hex's bosses in the Elysium level of the game.

It's a bit janky

Some parts of the game feel a bit off, though. In particular, the replay mode—which is available after you complete a level—stands out as having the most significant room for polish. Animations feel stilted and stuttery; there doesn't seem to be blended movements at play here. The dynamic camera also picks shots that are relatively uncinematic, occluding John or the enemy you're attacking from view, like behind an object or wall. It doesn't feel like a perfectly orchestrated cinematic action experience like the movies portray, but if you can look past that it's still an effective reflection of how you conquered a level.

Also at times, John Wick Hex has some tight difficulty pinch points which can make it a bit of a brutal game, much like XCOM, so you should get used to dying. I got extremely stuck in the Osborn level of Elysium and was frustrated because I felt like I was close but not quite to getting Osborne. I'd just get overwhelmed by a mire of enemies, even if I swept the place before entering Osborn's room. Part of me wants a lower difficulty I could flip on for that level, so I could advance forward and then flip it back to normal. It was worth it to stick with it, though—the level after Osborn introduced new enemies and weapons in the world that refreshed the tactical feel of the game after that tired boss fight.

A screenshot of John Wick Hex, showing John Wick in a spot of trouble against a boss.

Give it a shot

This game is a total departure from some of Bithell's past narrative-heavy games I've played, like Thomas Was Alone and Subsurface Circular. Even though it takes place in a story filled universe, the narrative takes the side seat to the tactics here.

If you're a John Wick series die-hard looking for the next dose of John Wick canon, there's no excuse to not pick up this game. The game is tightly associated with Lionsgate, featuring voice acting from the actual actors of Winston (Ian McShane) and Charon (Lance Reddick). If you're just looking for a good indie tactics game, but the cost ($19.99 at the time of publishing) is too much to chew, wait and give this game a shot when it's on sale.

John Wick Hex is available on the Epic Games store for Windows and macOS. The game's publisher provided a review copy of this game.

A birds-eye view of the level Too Many Trees in Marble Marcher.

Marble Marcher is a marble racing game by CodeParade. It plays a bit like a futuristic Super Monkey Ball tech-demo: race as a marble along an evolving procedurally-generated map to reach the finish flag.

The game has 24 maps available, each throwing you into different environment or challenge. Some levels evolve underneath as you make your way to the flag, meaning that you can never quite predict the correct path. You even face the risk of being crushed if the fractal closes in on you. Others offer a more technical challenge—fast and precise movement is required to get to the end of Beware of Bumps, or else you'll fall right off the fractal. There are even novelty ones: the object of Hole in One is to drop through a hole in the center of a fractal, to reach the flag on the other end.

Staring down the first level of Marble Marcher

This game is worth checking out purely because it's impressive from a technical standpoint. It uses a unique fractal physics engine with procedurally generated maps and ray-marched graphics. Because of this, this game is computationally intensive—the game requires a dedicated GPU to run at 60fps at a reasonable resolution. I'm unqualified to comment on the math, so it's worth checking out a short video from the developer that dives a bit deeper:

Sure, even though this game is mostly a tech demo, it's actually enjoyable. The variety of levels means it's easy to get about 30 minutes of enjoyment out of it, especially if you like Super Monkey Ball style games.

Screenshot of the coffee shop in Notebook Detective, before you gain entry to the speakeasy.

Notebook Detective is an atmospheric mystery game from students at Breda University. Uncover the mystery of a murder that occurred in a speakeasy set in the 1920s.

While investigating the murder, you hear the stories of three narrators as they discuss their perspectives and information about clues.

The UI contributes to the mystery of this game. As you advance into the speakeasy, different world objects serve as interactive elements in the puzzle. You’ll have to hunt out the correct combination for a door, tune a radio station, or find a phone number to dial. You also take notes by dragging around words in your notebook—anything can be a clue.

The Speakeasy in Notebook Detective, with a blood stain on the ground.

As you uncover the mystery and start to put the pieces together, do know that you only get one shot to make your guesses, or else you have to restart and find the clues all over again. If you don’t know you know the answer to something, make sure you’ve unlocked all the clues and available to you—there’s twelve—and have gone over each of them in the notebook carefully.

It’s worth playing Notebook Detective to take in the art and atmosphere. While it may not be the most story-heavy experience—check out Speak Easy for a similar atmosphere but a stronger story—the art-heavy environment and innovative UI are worth your time. Notebook Detective is by a team of students from Breda University. I played version 1.1, and my playthrough took about 45 minutes.

An exemplary level of Golf: Become Human

Golf: Become Human isn’t your average golf game. It’s not even a golf game, really.

The game description on itch.io keeps it simple: you play as a human turned golf ball, trying to complete trials to earn your humanity. A few minutes into playing this, I was exclaiming to friends that this game is “vaporwave, the game,” and oh boy, is that true—but I didn’t even know what I was really in for.

The first level, where the god teases you that you can get your body back.

An inversion of expectations

The game starts as a pretty average 3D platform golf game. You get how this game works instinctively—aim, click, and release to hit the golf ball toward the hole. You’ve seen golf games before, this isn’t much different.

The first three levels serve as a tutorial. A god-like character drops in, introduces each level, gives you some aesthetic quips and then leaves you on your way.

Everything changes and all sense of normalcy is disposed of when you hit level four. At the end of level four, the game transforms into a rubber band physics-based rock climbing game. “Figured a pair of arms would be useful,” the god quips when you start slingshotting around.

You, now walking around as a golf ball with toddler legs, in Golf: Become Human.

Skillfully applied wackiness

So once you get into the meat of the game—past level four, that is—Golf: Become Human hits its real stride. The game throws new mechanics at you, then augments them to increase complexity and to keep you guessing.

For instance, the rock climbing mechanic keeps evolving each time you encounter it, level by level. It starts off as a “climb to the top,” in the next level it adds corners, then animated bumpers, and then jumping springs and barriers. It skillfully builds from the underlying rock climbing game you found earlier into something devilishly complex and unexpected—but something I really wanted to bite into just so I could see what the game is going to do next with it.

It’s not just golf and rock climbing. There’s some platforming and flappy bird style gameplay too. You can also find the yellow flag hidden levels—which offer side-courses of gameplay varietals, like bowling and plinko.

Screenshot of Golf: Become Human, featuring bowling as a golf ball.

The ultimate mashup game of all time?

Yeah, this game is really vaporwave meets frog fractions meets the PGA tour series…with a jumble of other games you’d find in a discount bin heaped in too. That's a strength, not a crutch—everything feels at place here.

To accompany the vaporwave art aesthetic, Golf: Become Human includes its own lo-fi soundtrack from YouTube creators Lee and Zeeky Beats. The soundtrack is short and loops a few times. Once you’ve heard enough, feel free to sub in your own vaporwave soundtrack, from artists like Macintosh Plus or 2814.

Honestly, the origin of this game is mysterious to me. If you play through the credits—yes, the game gameifies the credits—you find that the game is made by a collective named “rootlads,” and lists some names in the credits, but I was unsuccessful in tracking any of them down. I weirdly suspect that there’s a deeper metagame to this, but I’m unable to find evidence of it. No social accounts, nothing. But the game is content-heavy and is polished deeply enough that it’s a surprise to see that the creators are nowhere to be found, short of posting the game.

Gameplay Tip:

There’s honestly a few bugs. The game can crash from time to time, mainly while aiming golf balls—wait for the green flash before clicking. If the game does crash, you can press R after relaunching to pick up at the checkpoint you left off at.
Oh, and strokes don’t really seem matter—or at least, I didn’t bother to three-star every course. The game always lets you continue to the next level.

A landscape shot of one of the last levels of Golf: Become Human, featuring the rock climbing in the distance.

Depending on how you feel about this sort of irreverent jokey complexity, Golf: Become Human may sound either fantastic or terrible to you, but you should really play it. It changes in ways that keep you guessing, in an irresistible sort of way that just made me searching for another hidden level, or to keep seeing how the game will evolve next.

My playthrough of Golf: Become Human took about an hour and a half. It made for a very delightful Sunday evening game. Golf: Become Human is available on itch.io for Windows.

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