This year has seen a resurgence in throwback platformers with titles such as Yooka-Laylee and Skylar and Plux – but where both those titles felt almost trapped in the past, A Hat in Time does not, bringing players colorful worlds to explore, collectibles to find and some surprising dark humor to indulge in.
The emphasis of the game focusses around the rather adorable Hat Kid, who has managed to lose all her timepieces, the fuel that propels her spacecraft. The reason I use the word emphasis rather than story is purely because that’s what these timepieces offer – an objective rather than a story, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s Hat Kids spacecraft that acts as the hub between different worlds, similar to the castle in Mario 64, just a lot smaller. This mini open-world approach carries through to the different worlds you’ll venture through and each one is delightfully different.
The variety in the worlds means the game continues to feel fresh, from the city inspired landscapes of Mafia Town to the movie set ran by owls, every time I opened a new area I was excited to see what bonkers creation developers Gears for Breakfast had come up with. But the level design is one thing, I mean, whats the point of having a charming level if there’s nothing to do there? Well, I’m pleased to say that A Hat in time nails this as well.
In all honesty, the first 30 minutes of my playthrough had me a little worried, you start in Mafia Town and although the world is interesting, your first couple of quests or acts are pretty generic. But once I started to delve deeper into the game all these fears of a regurgitated mess soon disappeared. This was no doubt due to not only the variety in quests but the originality they offered. One of my favorites has to be solving a murder mystery as part of a film production called, wait for it…’Murder on the Owl Express’, which, as you’ve probably guessed, plays out on a train. This quest is available in the early stages of the game, and you still have the joys of play delivery girl on a scooter and signing a deal with a slug devil (at least I think that’s what it was) to come
The variety of these worlds is broken down into acts, each of which ends with acquiring a timepiece, allowing you to gradually find enough to continue your space journey. Now, no 3D platformer wouldn’t be complete without a good old boss fight, and each world has one of these, although you’ll need to complete several acts to unlock them. I’m pleased to say the continuous diversity the game boast has made its way into these battles and although they never offered too much of a challenge, they do require you to learn the movements of your eccentric opponent.
Now, you could argue that everything I mentioned has been done before, which, it has, but I’d argue that it hasn’t been done well for a while now. So, what else sets A Hat in Time apart from its competitors? Apart from its diverse quests and memorable set pieces you also have the collectibles. These come in several forms, but the most useful are the balls of yarn that can be used to create some pretty cool hats. These hats not only look good but also give little Hat Kid some useful abilities – combine them with the different patches you can buy and you pretty much have the world at your feet, or head…cause they’re hats…no, okay, I’ll move on.
Another area where A Hat in Time surprised me, I mean, really surprised me is just how dark some of the humor gets. On the surface, it looks like an adorable platformer, which it is, but when you start hearing references of hanging people you question what you’ve been drinking, then realise that actually, it fits in perfectly with the gameplay and tone that the developers have gone for. If you’re now wondering ‘can I play this with kids’ then I’d say yes, just remind them that hanging someone by their tie is a bad thing.
I know you wouldn’t believe it from this review, but personally, I’m not a huge fan of 3D platformers, mostly down to how I feel they’re repetitiveness and sometimes clunky gameplay. Although A Hat in Time doesn’t suffer from repetitiveness or clunky gameplay, it does suffer from the age-old plague of 3D platformers, camera control. For the most part, you have full control over the camera, but when you’re in more tight fitting areas it has a tendency to place its self behind a wall. The game tries to tackle this by making the environment transparent, which does help but doesn’t remove the frustration of when you miss a simple jump because you cant see where you’re going.
A Hat in Time is a sheer delight to play, it’s diverse worlds and original quests are delivered in an adorable bundle of joy. Although the camera will sometime choose to be your worst enemy, it never deviates you from the charming task at hand. Developers Gears for Breakfast have done a brilliant job in capturing everything that made the genre so iconic in the 90’s while putting their own spin on it. A Hat in Time is an example of how nostalgia can be done right in video games and is, at the moment, the best 3D platformer to release this year.