2017 has been quite the year for 3D platformers, working hard to revitalize the long-stagnant genre. Most recently making its console debut is Kickstarter success, A Hat In Time, a loveably offbeat journey through space and headwear that runs on nostalgia while occasionally getting in its own way.
Colorful and Crazy
A Hat In Time stars you as Hat Girl, a top hat wearing child captaining an intergalactic ship from world to world with no supervision. As the game starts, you encounter a bald mafia man knocking on the outside of your windshield and demanding you pay a toll for occupying his planet’s airspace. When you refuse, he smashes the window sending you, and the 40 hourglasses that power your ship, tumbling towards the planet.
It’s an odd opening but it sets the tone for the rest of the game. Over the 12 hour quest to reclaim your hourglasses, you’ll encounter owls having a movie war with a disco penguin, a giant demon who makes you kill forest spirits, and a number of other oddities. The worlds are colorful and cartoonish, fitting well with a classic pulpy aesthetic and making for an enjoyable environment to romp around in.
Your ship serves as a hub and each world you visit is comprised of individual levels. You earn hourglasses by completing a level, and as you earn more, new worlds will unlock. To get abilities, you’ll rely on hats that you can obtain by collecting glowing yarn balls. The hats are easily the best part of the game and add a lot to making Hat Girl likable, despite her seemingly vacant personality. One hat turns you into ice so you can ground pound and another lets you concoct potions to use as grenades. The hats are generally adorable, and you can even unlock different skins for your various hats, such as making one look like a Sherlock Holmes hat. Your hats provide most of the variety to the gameplay, even if that variety is straightforward, requiring specific hats for specific puzzles with no real outside the box thinking allowed.
Up Up and Away
When you’re not upping your hat game, A Hat In Time will have you leaping around the screen as it looks to resurrect the feel of N64 platforming classics like Super Mario 64 or Banjo Kazooie. Playing a game like this on a modern system feels great most of the time except for a few mechanics that feel not fully thought out. For example, to increase your jump distance you can double jump then hit R2, which will fling you forward Superman style, landing on your belly in a very Mario way. The only issue is you’ll remain in that position until you hit R2 again, which is very counter-intuitive in a game where enjoyment relies a lot on momentum. Similarly, the game often fails to lock you onto a platform’s path, making jumping to narrow surfaces like electric lines a headache. This and many other minor but valuable modern quality of life additions appear to be absent or lacking.
Also, while striving for zaniness and offbeat situations the game can be very hit or miss. Missions where you have to solve a murder mystery on a train or assist suicidal firefoxes in offing themselves feel witty and inspired, but many times the game feels like it’s carrying out a full version of a sketch that should have gotten scrapped at the first draft. The characters can be obnoxious, and the voice overs definitely don’t do anything to make them more likable, sounding like overblown caricatures of caricatures. Along with the juxtaposition of quality levels with filler content can also make the game a chore to play for longer sessions.
From A to Z Then Back to B
Furthering the game’s disjointed feel is the lack of a cohesive narrative or sense of progression. The story is supposed to be fun and goofy but ultimately lacks a point or direction. You could make an argument that the story in a game like this doesn’t need to be a compelling narrative in favor of picturesque wonder, but either way it needs to be enjoyable to sell the game and A Hat In Time doesn’t deliver on that front. To make it worse, you have to bounce around worlds and levels, so you don’t get to experience the narrative that is there in a steady way. Generally, after about 4 out of a world’s 5 or so levels, you’ll come across a locked level that requires a specific ability to move forward in the game. To keep playing, you have to go to a different world, play a few levels, and then return to beat the boss.
The boss fights are redeeming though and serve to be pretty challenging in comparison to the normal levels. Each boss is a multi-stage fight, attacking varying patterns that require you to jump, dodge, swing while smacking them into submission. The fights feel inventive, and the challenge level is just right, serving to rarely be frustrating for no reason and always within the grasp of ‘just one more time’.
A Hat In Time is a solid 3D platformer. It’s not as magical as the games it’s striving to emulate, but it is loveable and fills a void sorely missing on consoles. Issues with pacing and a lack of identity hold it back, but changing hats is a great mechanic that serves as a strong backbone to carry the game, especially when paired with some enjoyable collectathon quests. It’s not not amazing, but you can do a lot worse.