by December 15, 2017 @ 1:28 pm
Just like we saw a resurgence of 2D platformers at the start of the indie game boom, it would appear that we’re now witnessing a 3D platformer revival. As someone who grew up with the genre, I’m glad to see that style of game in 2017. Developed by Gears for Breakfast, A Hat in Time isn’t a flawless victory for the 3D platformer revival movement, especially since it suffers from some issues that were common in the genre back in the day, but it’s still a largely enjoyable adventure filled with the utmost charm.
You play as Hat Kid, an intergalactic explorer whose ship is attacked by a Mafia goon. This attack causes Hat Kid’s magical hourglasses, or Time Pieces, to scatter all over the surrounding worlds. And just like that, you have the proper seeds planted for a collect-a-thon. Over the course of the game, the story takes some twists and turns, with “good guys” and “bad guys” not being all that black-and-white but rather slightly more complex. The plot isn’t incredible, but there are some funny moments throughout.
I was excited to start playing A Hat in Time because I’ve always had a heartfelt fondness for 3D platformers. And when all was said and done, I was glad to have jumped into the delightful space adventures of Hat Kid. It did, however, take a few hours to really get things going, which is unfortunate as the initial moments of the game can be quite the slog.
Right off the bat, you’re introduced to Mustache Girl, a red-hooded troublemaker with facial hair that may or may not be real — it’s never revealed and it doesn’t really matter. Your first objective in A Hat in Time is to chase down Mustache Girl. This allows you to become accustomed to the game’s camera and controls, as well as its brand of 3D platforming. It also lets you get an idea of the layout of the very first world, Mafia Town.
While I get that the game’s first objective is meant to play out as a tutorial of sorts, it’s not entertaining in the slightest, and the next few objectives aren’t any fun, either. During my first hour or so of playing, I wasn’t enjoying much of what A Hat in Time did. But after breaking through that introductory barrier, I discovered a 3D platformer that was, in actuality, filled with heart and soul and legitimately awesome gameplay.
Whereas something like Super Mario 64 back in the ’90s captivated me right from the get-go, A Hat in Time took a little longer to win me over, but by the end of it, I was completely on board. This is because, barring a few bad mission and design choices, A Hat in Time is good, honest fun. I was never too crazy about the destination in each level, but the journey was usually a good time. The act of going from point A to point B was more rewarding than actually seeing the payout once I’d reached point B.
Interestingly, the game’s hidden stages were some of the most fun I had playing. Unlike the main worlds, these bonus levels are much more condensed, and they feature some really cool obstacles and rich platforming action. I don’t think A Hat in Time would be better if it were completely made up of these stages, but I can say that I always looked forward to discovering a new hidden level.
Hats play a big role in the game. As you journey across different worlds, you’ll collect yarn balls that can be used to create different hats with special abilities. Your basic top hat, for example, points you in the direction of the goal in each level. The mail hat allows you to sprint. The snow hat freezes Hat Kid, giving you a ground pound move that allows you to hit switches and access new areas. There are more hats to craft, and discovering what they are and what they do is a lot of fun.
You can decorate your hats with special pins that further enhance Hat Kid’s abilities. These include spawning a scooter that makes moving around the levels much faster and a mini map that shows the locations of nearby collectibles. Some pins are more useful than others, and they’re priced pretty steeply, requiring you to constantly collect the diamond-shaped currency that’s littered all over the levels.
One of the strongest aspects of A Hat in Time is the tight control the game gives you of Hat Kid. Moving around the levels just feels really great. That’s why it’s a shame that the camera isn’t as responsive. Like classic 3D platformers from two decades ago, there are times where it feels like you’re in a hard-fought battle against the camera more than the actual in-game enemies. Thankfully, these camera issues are nowhere near as bad as they were in some older games.
Thematically, the game worlds provide a nice level of variety. You’ve got your colorful town, a spooky forest, and even a train. No two worlds are similar, which is awesome because you constantly feel like you’re exploring a new land. A big part of the fun for me was unlocking a new world and seeing what devilish obstacles awaited. Speaking of which, A Hat in Time walks a fine line between just the right amount of challenging and borderline easy when it comes to its level design. Sadly, the same can’t be said about its archaically-designed boss battles.
Like the games it’s inspired by, A Hat in Time is filled with brightly colored worlds and quirky character designs. The game takes advantage of modern capabilities to create lands that are filled with personality and charm. There were times where I was reminded of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which is about the highest degree of praise I could possibly bestow given my adulation for that game’s visuals.
The sound design of A Hat in Time is good, though there are a few fumbles along the way. While I enjoyed the game’s music, I thought the voice acting was hit-or-miss — Mustache Girl is especially unbearable. Overall, I think a bigger problem is that characters are just too chatty. I can’t count the number of times I just wanted to go Time Piece hunting, only to be halted by a talkative NPC. I get that these sequences are meant to push the story forward, but in a game like this, that sort of thing is more detrimental than helpful.
At its worst, A Hat in Time made me question why some of the design choices were made, especially early on. At its best, the game delighted me to the point of sheer bliss, and I was reminded why I loved 3D platformers to begin with. It’s not perfect, and it still doesn’t top some of my favorites like Super Mario Galaxy and Banjo-Kazooie, but A Hat in Time is a worthwhile return to this once glorious genre.
Score: 7 out of 10
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