I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again- 2017 has been an amazing year for platform fans. Not since the 1990s have we seen this many new and revived platform games flood game stores in the span of a single year. From Yooka Laylee to Super Mario Odyssey, it was as if Christmas was taking place nearly every month for gamers like myself. And, now that the holidays truly are right around the corner, there’s one more 3D platformer now available on several platforms that is well worth putting on your wish list.
Released for PC back in October, A Hat in Time finally released for consoles (Xbox One, PS4) this month. Its aim is similar to that of Yooka Laylee’s in that it strives to emulate the gameplay of the 3D Collect-A-Thon platformers of the late 90s and early 2000s. Despite some political controversy (which I’m not going to discuss), the PC version was met with overwhelmingly positive reviews.
One of the first things a player might notice is the game’s overly cute presentation. The characters and environments are all colorful and almost appear cel-shaded. Many of the characters (including the protagonist) look chibi-ish, with small statures and big eyes (as well as a lot of expressions). Everything here is well done, and even though the game obviously did not have the budget of Super Mario Odyssey, there is a ton of charm and heart present. Even if you strive to be a hard-ass like yours truly, A Hat in Time will no doubt put a smile on your face and fuzzies in your stomach. (If it doesn’t…check your family tree and make sure you’re not related to The Wizard of Oz‘s tin man.)
The game takes place across 5 fairly large worlds, each segmented by several or so missions. Similar to Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine, the player choses a specific mission to tackle before being thrust into the level. Exploration is encouraged as there are several sets of collectibles (including yarn balls and relics- more on those later), but the game can also be approached in a more linear fashion as the protagonist, a child known only as “Hat Kid” seeks out hourglasses that can affect the passage of time. There are around 5 regular missions in each world (some gated off until you have the ability or item needed to complete it), leading up to a finale (usually a boss). In addition, three time rifts will appear after completing the finale and assembling the relics collected in the main world on a few stands scattered throughout the game’s hub. These latter objectives lead to more traditional platforming challenges, similar to the sections in Super Mario Sunshine in which Fludd was stolen from Mario.
In my opinion, one of the most important aspects of a 3D platformer to nail is movement. It should feel good to run around and perform all sorts of acrobatic feats. Movement is the difference between a top tier game like Super Mario 64 and…well…Bubsy 3D. Fortunately, Gears for Breakfast understood this. Hat Kid handles closer to the cream-of-the-crop platform heroes and heroines than anything other indie games with the same mission statement of “bringing back 3D platformers” have managed. Running, jumping, double-jumping, climbing up ledges and sliding are all a blast to pull off here.
The game does add a few wrinkles to the formula through various hats (which are stitched together by snatching up enough yarn balls in the levels), granting Hat Kid new abilities. One hat may allow her to turn into an ice statue and propel herself across the map by landing on an ice pad. Another allows her to slow time down, which is essential for one mission and also allows you to cheese through the bosses (fortunately, you obtain this one later on in the game…a wise design choice). There’s also the badges, which the player obtains by trading orbs (the game’s “coins”) with a character who appears at some point in every world. These range from a hook-shot that allows Hat Kid to swing around on flying hooks like Sly Cooper to a “One Hit Death” badge that makes the game more difficult.
Also adding flavor to the genre are a few sections that break away from the 3D Platforming 101 guidebook. The second world, which revolves around a movie studio, incorporates stealth. Ordinarily, forced stealth is something I despise but to my surprise, A Hat in Time’s stealth sequences are fun. Not only that, but I chuckled at the fact that every time I knocked something over or failed to stay out of a character’s vision cone (which, as someone who is god awful at traditional stealth games, did quite a bit of) , it came up on a bill on the corner of the screen. “Owl harassment” and “Teepee TKO” were just some of the crimes I committed during my time with this mission. There’s also a survival-horror esque mission, and while I found it to be a little more annoying than the stealth missions (again, probably due to my lack of experience in the genre), it was still pretty entertaining.
The only real problem I found with the game is that it isn’t very challenging aside from that survival-horror mission mentioned earlier and one of the boss fights. I was able to one hundred percent the game AND platinum it (both things I seldom do with video games, but in the case of this game, I was having too much fun not to) in a little under 15 hours of total play time. While it’s not so easy that it’s disengaging, I wish there would have been more resistance as I cruised through just about everything the game had to offer. A New Game Plus with more difficult enemies, altered versions of the levels and/ or the One-Hit Badge permanently tacked on would have been a nice addition. If Gears for Breakfast decides to throw something like this in the mix for DLC later on, I’d gladly eat it up…paid or not.
Relative ease aside, A Hat in Time is one of the best modern 3D platforming experiences to be had that doesn’t star an Italian plumber. It may not have had the budget of Mario’s adventures, but it is still worth every penny of the $29.99 that the developer wants for it.