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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Finding a happy mushroom in the Good Time Garden.

The Good Time Garden is a surreal environment exploration game by James Carbutt and Will Todd. That says everything yet nothing at all. I have no clue how to describe this game, even though that’s kind of what I do here. The Good Time Garden is one of those surreal things that you have to let happen to you. But, let’s still take a stab at it:

You play as a naked flower guy—dick and all—that’s bloomed out of a plant in the ground. Unashamedly bare-assed, you walk around and explore this world. You’ve got your hands to slap and pick up things, and using your nose as a fountain to water things.

Feeding the blob in the Good Time Garden.

The point of the game is to bring food to this sort of big throbby mouth creature—that’s probably your mom or something of the sort. (The creature sports the same kind of head and hair as you, but has a distinct lack of legs.) You walk about the world and find new bits to interact with until you can pick up and carry some food back for it. Rinse and repeat.

There’s a tiny bit of Rube Goldberg style interactivity to this game (which heightens the surrealism). For instance, watering a flower can convince a giant frog to unroll its tongue, allowing you to cross a river.

A modest bird and a fully grown apple tree in the Good Time Garden

The allure of The Good Time Garden is its fantastic art direction. It features hand-drawn scenes and characters that could be described as “Adventure Time but pink.” (But, it’s perhaps a bit more NSFW, considering the cartoonish dicks and butts). It’s also got a tremendous ambient soundscape that perfectly fits the wet, naked, grassy world.

The Good Time Garden is a cute, pink, surreal experience, that’ll take about 20 minutes of your time. It’s available for Windows, Linux, and macOS on itch.io. Happy feeding.

The Title Screen of Card of Darkness by Zach Gage

Card of Darkness is a card game by Zach Gage, Pendleton Ward (of Adventure Time fame), and Choice Provisions. Card of Darkness is like a game of solitaire mixed with distilled roguelike elements and a vibrant atmosphere. But don’t let this game’s sweet colorful aesthetic deceive you; this game is trying to wind you up. You’ll be seeing cards for days—they’ll even haunt your dreams.

Pick up a card

The game is relatively simple. Each game starts with a few cards face up. A card can be anything: a wide variety of monsters that will attack you, a chest that gives you gold, potions to heal yourself, various weapons to attack—you name it.

Here’s the catch, when you’re attacking with most weapons, you need to match your weapon’s even/odd parity with the monster card. So, if you have a sword with a value of four and the enemy has six, you’ll take two damage and keep your sword. But if you have that same four value sword against an enemy with five, you’ll be hit with one damage, and your sword will break. So this game isn’t always about picking up the heftiest sword—you might lose it with the very next card you have to pick up.

You progress through levels by picking up enough cards to reach the stairs or volcano at the top of the screen. If you pick up a card from a pile, you can’t leave that pile unfinished before advancing. You also need to keep careful watch of your health and try to forecast what will happen with the marked cards that you need to pick up before proceeding to another level.

A flavorful adventure

Considering that Pendleton Ward, creator of Adventure Time, is behind the art of Card of Darkness, it’s exactly what you can expect—colorful and silly, yet with a marked sense of adventure. Each region you visit presents a different flavor of game design and art, like new monsters and weapons with varying mechanics with increasing complexity.

For example, Fearfoxes lose three value every time you pick up a monster, so you try to pick up others first. A Potion of Patience is a regular portion, but its value goes up by one each turn. Later, there are beefy fire swords, Burning Steel, which damage you by one each turn while equipped. Further still, you encounter Horrors; they’re monsters that do enough damage to leave you with one health. They’re pretty, well, horrible, until you realize that killing one horror can kill all the horrors on screen.

Strategy and well-balanced randomness

Card of Darkness is an RNG heavy game, and the randomness of the game is not your friend. That said, the randomness does bring balance and depth to this game. It softens the difficulty when you’re just starting, and also deemphasizes the need to min/max the game for advanced players. And in that sense, the game feels well-tuned. It usually feels like you can figure your way out of a tense scenario, but if you do fail, a restart of the level might be the run where you squeak through. I love how this feels—it gives you a euphoric feeling of “oh god, I just barely made it through with one health.”

The fun of this game is the problem solving to get ahead of the randomness. How do you tailor your Cards of Darkness for each level? It’s chasing the thrill of steamrolling a level because you found a buildout of Cards that’s a bit busted. (If you’re not changing your Cards of Darkness on most levels, you may be getting stuck for longer than you need—especially boss levels.)

Sure, the game is hard, but it’s not unfair. You might get the occasional level with brutal RNG where you give up immediately, but the game wants you to finish it. There’s no penalty for failure—if you have poor luck, it’s as fleeting as bad a hand of poker. And You’re coming out ahead every time—you’re bound to pick up some coins from each level, enable you to get more tokens or slots for Cards of Darkness that give you an extra advantage when you may be quite stuck.

Fall in the deep deep end

Card of Darkness is probably the best idle game on Apple Arcade so far. Like many other Zach Gage games, it’s a great game to pick up in idle moments, like waiting in line at a grocery store or trying to multitask while listening to a podcast.

I’ve played for several hours so far, and while I’d like to say I’ve finished the game, it looks like I still have a bit more to go—I’m presently battling my way though The Baxlan Delves as I write this (which is level six of eight). Based on my experience, I can say it’s a game just for “hardcore gamers”; it’s relatively accessible for anyone to pick up—with persistence, you’ll make it to the end of the game.

Card of Darkness is available for iOS and tvOS with an Apple Arcade subscription.

A screenshot of Mini Motorways, showing editing strategies and tips for building roads.

Do you know those moments when you’re sitting in deep stop-and-go traffic that goes on for miles? The traffic that makes you lazily slouch down in your seat and turn up the volume to your podcast, to distract you from the boredom? Perhaps you wonder to yourself, who designed these roads? Well, now it can be you.

Mini Motorways is a city simulation game by Dinosaur Polo Club. Your task is to build a road network that can support a growing, sprawling city. It’s a follow up to Dinosaur Polo Club’s earlier game, Mini Metro.

A screenshot of Los Angeles in Mini Motorways, showing the early development of a city, with multiple colors of buildings.

Los Angeles

I first take on the task of planning roads for Los Angeles, a city notorious for dense and never-ending traffic. Something makes me think I can do better. (It’s a game, right? How hard can it be?)

Specifically, Los Angeles is vast and open, with only the Los Angeles River (and later, the San Gabriel River) to get in the way of your planning. As the game starts and time passes, colored houses and factories pop up. The houses provide a few cars of traffic, and the cars leave home to a store or factory of the same color, and then turn around and return home.

Since LA is my first experience with the game, I’m soon caught out by learning the systems yet. I don’t yet know how to foresee the problems here, so my road development is just blindly connecting new houses and buildings to my road network without much rhyme or reason. I don’t know how to anticipate where buildings will grow, and this gets me caught in awkward corners. My first (and expected) loss comes because I never expected how to grow across the Los Angeles River. Next time, I’ll build across the river in advance of things popping up there, and start to preestablish a grid.

An early screenshot of Tokyo in Mini Motorways, showing a road along the Sumida river.

Tokyo

My next contract is in a new city: Tokyo. This city presents a slightly different challenge from Los Angeles. The Sumida River (隅田川) is my first foe—It doesn’t take too long for the game to start throwing stores and houses on the other side of it.

I build on what I’ve learned from LA and decide to establish a grid layout. If you’re thinking about a grid, when a new building appears, try to extend the roads well past the building with your extra road tiles long enough so intersections can naturally form. Also, since you can connect houses to a path from any of their sides, flipping houses seems to be a more critical strategy, so I can start reducing their pressure along main roads.

A well formed city of Beijing in Mini Motorways, with an advanced grid established.

Beijing

Beijing is the next map I sunk my teeth into, and honestly, it took me a few attempts to get right. There are a small river and lake here, and both manage to get in the way. I feel like Beijing is more big-building dense than the other cities I’ve played too.

I’ve refined my grid strategy a bit here, and also picked up a few other strategies. For example, to reduce the number of intersections, I’ve started to focus on tertiary roads that connect to major arterial grid roads—these tertiary roads focus more on dead-end home traffic, and the grids hold more store/factory traffic.

I’ve also picked up the habit of pausing when a new factory drops. I’ve quite often found that the large buildings drop in awkward spots, and as I’m going to paint down new roads, a house will pop into my planned path unexpectedly.

A close zoom of Moscow in Mini Motorways, showing traffic and two buildings about to fail.

Russian to download it

Overall, Mini Motorways is a more zen-like experience than Mini Metro. Once you start to pick up skills that help you better understand the game and its traffic flow—like pre-planning a grid, tertiary roads, etc.—it feels like you have much better control over the game. When I fail, it’s mostly due to shortcomings in anticipating traffic, not from a bout of randomness—like fifteen people decided to stack up at a metro station that I suddenly have to account for (like in the previous game). You also usually have a bit of time to recover from these misses, or can plonk down a motorway as an exhaust path.

Mini Motorways is available now for Apple Arcade. Each game can last from just a few minutes to a max of about 20 minutes (all depending on how well you do), but you can undoubtedly get hours of playtime out of this game.

The flowery bird boy you befriend and help heal, in Compassion.

Compassion is a narrative experience game by Ivan Papiol, about getting help when you're in pain.

You encounter an injured bird, in need of help. When you interact with the bird, the thoughts that appear on-screen reflect more gloomy thoughts about how you deal with pain. Poking the bird with a stick explores the ways you can pull away when someone tries to be there and care for you. Offering the bird some flowers dives into the validation and, well, the compassion you can feel when you open up and let others provide help. If you think about it, in a way, that bird is almost like yourself.

This game carries a tang of extra meaning for me. If you check the archive of this site, things slowed down in July. I had a hard time dealing with some things going on in my life, and figuring out how to navigate the road ahead hasn't been easy.

You can't erase pain, but it's easier when you're taking my hand.

Caring for my flowery bird boy was somehow the highlight of my day. It's games and experiences like this that reenergize me. I'm gonna come back to this game when it feels like the sticks and rocks are clouding my judgment.

There's more to be seen!