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Home / Reviews / Console games / A Highland Song review: peak platforming

A Highland Song review: peak platforming

A narrative platformer that’s as Scottish as it comes

A Highland Song review lead

Stuff Verdict

With majestic sights and wondrous tales, A Highland Song is a terrific indie platformer that uses its environments and your choices to make a memorable journey each time.


  • Authentically Scottish in every way
  • Gorgeous vistas to run and climb around
  • Very replayable


  • Some routes can be frustrating dead-ends
  • Weather conditions can get annoying (but can be adjusted)


Think video games and you might say there’s always been an inherent Scottishness to them. After all, the popular Grand Theft Auto series is made by a Scottish developer, while there’s no shortage of dwarves with Scottish accents in fantasy RPGs. But I don’t think I’ve played a game that’s quite so intrinsically and faithfully Scottish as A Highland Song.

It’s also presented in an unusual way: a 2D platformer with survival-like mechanics and open exploration, while also being focused on narrative. Of course, acclaimed indie developer Inkle has always focused on interactive fiction while also trying its hand at different kinds of games, from the award-winning 80 Days to reverse whodunnit Overboard.

But where most narrative games often involve text-based choices, A Highland Song’s decisions come from the paths you physically take. 15 year-old Moira (a name that’s coincidentally an anagram of Nintendo’s iconic plumber)’s journey to reach her Uncle Hamish’s lighthouse sees her running, jumping and climbing across the highlands.

Great Scot

Leaving her mam’s quiet house in the middle of nowhere, Moira’s goal is to reach the sea (where she’s never been before), with a deadline to get there by Beltane – the Gaelic term for May Day. The game’s absolutely steeped in Gaelic names and traditions, while its dialogue is peppered with Scottish colloquialisms. Whether that’s freezing conditions described as being “Baltic” or when Moira celebrates an achievement with “Yas!” or “Get in!”. What makes it even more faithfully Scottish is just how much Moira speaks with casual drops of mild profanity, although it can be turned off.

If any of that goes over your head then there’s still the sights and sounds. A Highland Song is filled with utterly breathtaking handpainted vistas and skies, as these 2D illustrations are stitched together so that you can traverse from one hill to another ridge behind it, and so on until you eventually reach the sea at the very back.

From time to time, you might also encounter a deer; sprint after it and you’ll suddenly trigger a platforming rhythm mini-game, where the hills burst alive with the wondrous sound of Celtic folk music. It’s hard not to get swept up by it as Moira skips along rocks and bridges effortlessly, so long as you don’t mess up the timed button prompts, causing her to trip and cut the music short.

But the big satisfaction comes from navigating the highlands almost like a 2D version of Breath of the Wild. Which is to say there’s climbing involved, but also because you have to do some investigating to figure out where to go next. You might discover a map (or rather illustrations, some more detailed than others) that hint at a path or shortcut but figuring out where it is means having to reach a peak so that you can scan your surroundings to see if you can find a spot that matches the picture.

Weathering with you

A Highland Song’s platforming doesn’t have Mario’s skill-based precision or the realistic perils of Inside. Nonetheless, Moira can still jump higher than a normal person. When she suffers fall damage she’ll just mutter about twisting her ankle and then carry on. At the same time environmental conditions are also at play to try and emphasise how these highlands, as beautiful as they appear, can also be harsh and dangerous to traverse.

You’ll have to weather the elements, from rain to wind to snow, all which can gradually chip away at your health and even drain the maximum gauge over time unless you properly rest. While you can technically hold a button to rest at any time, where you rest also matters. Having shelter, be it underneath trees, in a dry cave, or even an empty building, means you can recover health faster. Resting also progresses time, which means you can wait out rainy conditions – though that can also mean losing precious daylight, especially when resting in a building wastes the whole day.

At times, these weather conditions can grate. If you didn’t get on with Breath of the Wild’s rain, you’ll probably find waiting for it to pass only for it to return seconds later here just as annoying. That said, the game fortunately has options to adjust these, so you can have milder weather or even have it so that Moira won’t ever slip when climbing.

Roads not taken

With just a week before Beltane when the game begins, there’s a good chance that you might not make it to your destination in time. In my first playthrough, I actually arrived over a week late. I found myself getting lost a few times, struggling to make it through some tough climbs on reduced health only to find that I had reached a dead-end while also accidentally wasting some days away. It was only later then that I realised it’s also possible to re-load to an earlier auto-save.

You’ll still be able to finish the game even if you’re late, though it’s very definitely worth your time making it in time for a lovely ending that I shan’t spoil. But even if luck’s on your side and you do make it to the lighthouse on time on the first go, A Highland Song has been designed, much like Inkle’s other games, to be very replayable. It invites you to go begin again to see if you can reach the lighthouse even earlier as well as a list of other achievements worth ticking off.

In a new journey, any shortcuts, maps or items you found are carried over, in theory making another run easier. You might also be able to figure out things you couldn’t before, like a box you didn’t have a tool to open previously. Some parts I think follow the developer’s design that deliberately doesn’t make every possible route open up until after successive runs, so that you’ll definitely not have the exact same experience twice. From encounters with mysterious characters to new peaks you’ve yet to learn the name of, there’s plenty to whet the appetite of a completionist that’s fresher than the usual platforming collectathons.

Whether you set out through the highlands immediately again or give it a few days, it’s a digestible game that you can easily sit down and finish in an afternoon or evening. But you can be confident that each time is going to be just as memorable.

A Highland Song verdict

There’s lots to love about A Highland Song, especially if you’re either Scottish, though everyone else will just find it a nice surprise there’s more to these lands than tartans and Irn Bru. It’s hard not get taken away by its gorgeous vistas, Moira’s plucky personality, or the narration that draws on both historical and mythical with equal weight. These hills are awash with stories.

I had some quibbles with navigating through the occasionally treacherous environments while trying to meet the deadline, but they pale in comparison to the inviting spirit of adventure that awaits. In these highlands, your choices make the journey your own, and there are further riches to discover in subsequent playthroughs. It’s an easy recommendation, and as Moria might say, “Yas!”

Stuff Says…

Score: 4/5

With majestic sights and wondrous tales, A Highland Song is a terrific indie platformer that uses its environments and your choices to make a memorable journey each time.


Authentically Scottish in every way

Gorgeous vistas to run and climb around

Very replayable


Some routes can be frustrating dead-ends

Weather conditions can get annoying (but can be adjusted)

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