All filled with harsh trials followed by stunning yet peaceful conclusions.
There’s a lot of symbolism involved with exploring natural environments such as mountains, with the heavy sentiment and character growth attached to the climb. There’s a lot of potential for exploration of these themes; here are four games that find unique ways to embody this message beautifully.
- “A Short Hike”
“A Short Hike” is a solo project from Adam Robinson-Yu released in 2019, and is self-described as “a little exploration game about hiking up a mountain.”
Players start the game playing as a small bird named Claire who has no cell reception and is coerced by her aunt May to head up to Hawk’s Peak for the best chance to receive a call. Along this journey, you forge bonds with the residents of the island and collect golden feathers to help you soar through the sky.
The game is only around two hours long, but even with that limited time, it manages to tell an extremely compelling story. Despite Claire’s initial reluctance to go on this hike, she manages to deeply connect with her community and her environment.
This game pushes the notion that it’s important to connect yourself with others during hard times in your life–that nature and community are healing. If these themes resonate with you, the game is only $8 on PC and all major consoles.
“Journey” is a smash-hit indie adventure game from 2012 by “Thatgamecompany,” and might be a bit of a stretch for this list. Yes, most of the game is running around in various environments ranging from sunbaked deserts to dangerous ancient ruins. However, I had to include it here for the way the journey starts, ends, and repeats with its dangerous yet beautiful mountain.
The climb to the top in “Journey” is a very emotional ride, and it touches on a lot of different ideas. The journey itself is significant, but I’d say the key thing to notice while playing is the game’s theme of connection.
The primary example of this is how you go through the long trek to the top of the mountain with a silent stranger you meet along the way. “Journey” is so phenomenal because that stranger is a real person. Even though communication is restricted, players end up creating a deep bond with their new friend. The journey up to the mountain is directly tied to the bond you and your friend create.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve never touched a controller before, I would highly recommend “Journey” because there’s something in it for everyone. It’s about 3 hours long, and is available for $15 on Playstation consoles, PC, and also the iOS App Store.
“Celeste” is an expertly-crafted indie precision platformer from 2018 by Extremely OK Games, and spearheaded by lead developer Maddy Thorson. The gameplay alone is fantastic; its tight controls, optional challenges and great accessibility options make this game one of the best platformers I’ve ever played.
“Celeste” shines just as bright with its design as it does with its amazing story. Players are put in the shoes of Madeline, a stubborn, young woman who is dead-set on climbing Celeste Mountain for her own personal introspection. Throughout the climb, she battles with a magical manifestation of her own anxieties, and is forced to come to terms with herself.
The main character’s story is also loosely linked with Thorson’s, as she went through her own trials of mental health and gender identity. In an article titled “Is Madeline Canonically Trans?” Thorson writes “Well, yeah, of course she is,” going on to talk about how she wasn’t sure of her own gender identity while creating “Celeste,” and how the journey of creating the game and writing Madeline’s character helped her tremendously in figuring these things out.
Climbing up Celeste Mountain is inherently about mental health and understanding oneself. This idea is already something incredibly multifaceted, but the game pulls it off wonderfully. If you’d like to pick up this game, it’s available for $20 on all major platforms.
- “Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy”
“Getting Over It with Bennett Foddy,” created by Bennett Foddy in 2017, is not the kind of game I would go about recommending to everyone. This punishing climbing game is going against all sorts of intuitive game design by having players climb through surreal piles of digital trash while battling unintuitive architecture and terrible controls. Because of this, falling down the mountain and losing all of your progress is inevitable.
In contrast to the disorganized and difficult gameplay, you have the relaxing voice of Bennett Foddy spouting philosophies and insights that cement what the game is about. Foddy talks about frustration and failure, and how challenge is underlooked. A mountain isn’t designed to be easy, and neither is this game.Despite its difficulty, the game is genuinely really satisfying once you get a grip of it. If you think you’re up for the challenge, it’s available on PC and mobile app stores for $8.