The Bottom Line: By constantly introducing new concepts and obstacles, this precision platformer stays fresh from start to finish – and feels great to play as well.
There are many ways a game can fail. Some games aim for the stars but explode on the launching pad; others lack a clear direction, taking the player on an unfulfilling journey to nowhere. So when I’m trawling the sea of indies, I’m always thrilled to catch a game that knows exactly what it wants to do and does it exceedingly well.
Raven’s Hike is precisely the kind of game I’m talking about. As a precision platformer that you can finish in an afternoon, Raven’s Hike flew under the radar for most gamers, but it is a smartly designed game that can provide a big hit of fun to gamers seeking a challenge.
What separates Raven’s Hike from other platformers is its movement mechanics. There’s no running or jumping on this hike. Instead, you zip around the levels by way of grappling hook. You can fire the hook and rope in four directions by pressing up, down, left, or right. When the hook attaches to an object, it’ll immediately begin pulling you toward it. Want to change directions in mid-flight? You can fire another hook at a 90-degree angle and, assuming it finds an object it can attach to, you’ll begin flying towards it instead.
Learn to Fly, Fly to Die
Like any great platformer, Raven’s Hike starts simple and gradually adds mechanics. In every stage, the goal is to reach the exit. In the early levels this is as simple as finding a way there, but before long obstacles, such as spikes on the walls, will force you to take detours. While in some cases you can avoid grappling these walls completely, often you’ll find that you need to fling yourself headlong into danger before rerouting towards a safe landing spot in mid-flight.
After you’ve completed the first few stages, the game starts locking the exit doors. From this point on, you’ll have to collect five coins scattered around each level to open the door before exiting, and the challenges only continue to stack from there. You’ll encounter rocks that fall when you pass beneath them, stone columns that come loose under your weight, and semi-hollow traps that sprout spikes when you pass through them. You’ll also be attacked by sawblades, dark clouds that chase you like ghosts, and even blocks that fly straight at you like amphetamine-fueled rooks zooming across a chessboard.
Death comes often in Raven’s Hike; thankfully it’s only a minor setback. Most levels take place on a single screen, and if you succumb to one of the many obstacles, you’ll instantly respawn at the starting point. Some of the levels also have a bonus objective. After you gather all the room’s coins and unlock the door, a feather may appear, often in a perilous location. You can either try to collect it, risking all the progress you’ve made, or you can leave well enough alone and make a beeline for the exit.
All of these objectives and obstacles are smartly implemented, with most levels having many viable routes. You can look around and plan the safest path to the exit, or you can shoot your grappling hook first and ask questions later. The levels also present speedrunners with ample opportunities to analyze layouts and find optimal routes.
Precision Always Wins
Raven’s Hike comprises four different areas – Cave, Dungeon, Clocktower, and Temple – with 16 levels a piece, plus one final test. While these areas do all feature unique obstacles, graphically speaking they do little to stand apart from one another, with their colors being the only significant difference. Raven herself, on the other hand, commands the player’s attention, with animation that is both lively and responsive. Her red scarf flutters in the breeze and she always moves predictably. Whenever I fell into a trap, I always felt like it was my own fault, rather than the result of wonky collision detection or loose control. Quick fingers are rewarded with precise responses.
Finishing the game while collecting most but not all of the feathers took me about three hours. I started out with a controller, which worked very well, but eventually switched to my wired keyboard in hopes of boosting my response times by a few milliseconds.
For precision platformer fans, Raven’s Hike is the full package. Whether you’re a casual player looking to hone your reflexes or a serious speedrunner looking for a fresh challenge, Raven’s Hike will offer plenty of enjoyment. So cast your doubts aside, because this is one grappling hook ride you don’t want to miss out on.