A Hat in Time
A Hat in Time was a massive Kickstarter success when the crowdfunding service was at its peak. A Hat in Time, along with Yooka-Laylee, set out to seemingly do the same thing – breathe new life into 3D platformers. Yooka-Laylee did it with a straight up Banjo-Kazooie influence, while A Hat in Time was sold on the idea of doing a bit of that, but being more open and akin to Super Mario 64. The end result is a surprisingly open 3D platformer that still has a set stage structure – but gives you more freedom to explore the environments and keeps the size of each level large enough to feel massive to explore as a single person, but not so large that you get overwhelmed. There’s also far more variety in core gameplay types and you never quite know what to expect stage to stage.
A Hat in Time has a simple premise – Hat Kid is trying to return to her home. However, she gets stopped by the mafia and her space ship is busted up. All of her fuel is gone now and she has to explore the world to get some of it back. It’s one little girl versus an entire mafia, and it’s a hilarious conceit because one would never expect a mafia presence in a game like this. However, it’s all played for laughs with them being played off as goofy brutes without a working brain between them. It’s just the right amount of silly and serious, with a wide variety of silly characters providing comedy. Mustache Girl is the first one you encounter, and a reluctant ally who becomes a bit more of an antagonist as time goes on. A Hat in Time’s cast is hilarious, with a variety of NPCs like shopkeeps and enemies that have a bit of personality to them.
A Hat in Time gives you a mix of tons of platforming with some strange other side missions that are different and unique for any game – let alone a platformer. No other platformer would have a murder mystery thrown into the mix alongside a stealth mission building up evidence. Each world has its own stories that weave into Time Kid’s overall narrative. The mafia starts things off and you get the sense that they’re all oafs, while you aren’t just pitted against the whole mafia group – as only some seem to have an issue with her. A Hat in Time is a hilarious game and offers up far more comedy than one would usually expect from a platformer.
Hat Kid has access to a wide variety of helpful items – including hats that give her different skills and badges that add to her traversal and general skillset. You can get a magnet power-up that brings collectibles towards you – so it’s handy if you’re in the mood to collect a bunch of stuff, or you can cash in your goodies to get things like a hat to do air dashes and hover along with amusing ones, like a badge that turns all the dialogue into N64-esque mumbling. A hookshot can also be added to your arsenal, while a camera allows you to channel your inner photographer and frame slick shots of her. Badges earned aren’t just for new powers though – you also get physical badges on her hat and it’s a small feature that really does show the level of detail that was put into the game. This kind of thing also holds true in rain-slicked areas, where she’ll wear a giant yellow rainslicker to ensure that her existing outfit never gets too wet.
Exploring the world feels rewarding here – even with it not being a complete collect-a-thon. You’re always rewarded for exploration with things like color-coded tickets helping you get more money and then finding yarn to craft new hat powers. In time, you’ll not only be able to dash around, but even blast away with a witch’s hat or turn your umbrella attack into a long-range blaster attack. Exploration is also rewarded by opening up time rifts – which are very much like Super Mario Sunshine’s side levels that were pure platforming challenges. They’re the same basic thing here, only with far more level variety. You still have a goal to get from Point A to B, but the traversal can be tricky thanks to things like ice tripping you up. Fortunately, the camera is intuitive here and never gets in the way.
This mostly holds true during the main game itself too – which is nice to see. 3D platformers have always struggled with offering up a mix of freeform movement and accuracy, and it’s rarely gotten perfectly right. Proper camera design is tied so heavily into proper level design and making sure that areas are designed with a free-moving camera in mind – which works well here, outside of some brief instances of the camera getting stuck in small areas like sewer drains. Traversal is also a breeze thanks to intuitive controls. The button layout works nicely and other than it taking a quick menu to swap hats, every major command you need to input can be done with not only great ease – but at a moment’s notice. The controls are excellent as a whole, even with some small issues like the camera making aiming slightly tough when you’re using the projectile attacks. Fortunately, fixed camera boss battles allow you to change things up and focus on the core action without worrying about the camera at all.
Visually, A Hat in Time looks gorgeous. The art style is cartoony – but expressive as well. Every character comes alive with vivid facial expressions and body language. The bombastic kid character dart around with a speed that sets them apart from larger, lumbering enemies while some enemies show their passion in running around in anger. The environments are gorgeous too – with some stunning depth of field effects that make the stages seem pretty epic. This really holds true in the larger open-world areas, but the smaller and more confined stages are stunning as well thanks to smart lighting effects and a surprisingly high amount of detail throughout.
A Hat in Time’s soundtrack is whimsical, and the voice acting is hilarious when it’s featured. The music isn’t exactly the most memorable though – but what it lacks in that it makes up for in being spot-on perfect for the stage you’re on. The silly sound effects are a joy as well and manage to not only fit in with what you would expect from a 3D platformer, but goes beyond that with more variety thanks to Hat Kid’s many kinds of attacks and power-ups. The audio is great as a whole, but isn’t the best part of the presentation.
However, as an overall product, A Hat in Time is a must-buy for any 3D platforming fan. The pacing is superb in every stage, and there’s far more variety here than in any 3D platformer released in the past decade. The game definitely has some rough edges – but they’re a bit like eating a fine meal on a cracked plate. The overall experience is so great that you don’t remember the small nagging issues very much. The camera could definitely use some work, and the soundtrack may not be the most memorable ever – but it’s genuinely great, as is the voice work. It’s clear that this was a passion project, and it’s one of the finest crowd-funded projects ever made.
Reviewed By: Jeremy Peeples
Publisher: Humble Bundle
This review is based on a digital copy of A Hat in Time for the PlayStation 4 purchased by the reviewer.