A Hat in Time Review
“This feels a lot like Super Mario Galaxy,” was one of my first thoughts upon starting Gears for Breakfast’s Kickstarter success story A Hat in Time. The resemblance only grew stronger as the game progressed, with everything from the art style and game mechanics to the music cues and animations harkening back to Mario’s outer space excursions. Not content to be a simple retread of familiar territory, though, A Hat in Time manages to bring in new ideas while doing an admirable job of measuring up to its acclaimed influences.
The story follows the “tradition” of many 3D puzzle-platformers, in that it largely takes a backseat to the gameplay. However, the simple tale of Hat Kid’s quest to repair her spaceship unfolds into a pleasant narrative that ties the different sections of the game together, culminating in a final sequence that will put a smile on the face of even the most jaded of gamers. If you’re willing to read into it, there’s even an interesting moral dilemma at play, with Mustache Girl – Hat Kid’s friend-turned-nemesis – providing some compelling reasons (especially early on) for why she could be in the right. All of this is backed up by a fantastic score and voice acting that starts out as mediocre (e.g. Mustache Girl and the Mafia), but rapidly improves from there. Once characters like the Conductor and the Snatcher start hamming it up on-screen, it’s hard not to be sucked into A Hat in Time’s whimsical world.
Traversing that world is a breeze, thanks to Hat Kid’s fast, fluid move set. In addition to the standard wall jump, double jump, and so forth, she can do a forward dive that can be canceled into another jump at any time. As the game progresses, this becomes a phenomenally useful move, allowing for momentum canceling, jump extensions, and quick evasions. It can even give a brief speed boost if properly timed on the ground, which is something I’m looking forward to seeing utilized in future speedruns.
“A Hat in Time manages to bring in new ideas while doing an admirable job of measuring up to its acclaimed influences.”
Of course, the main draw of Hat Kid’s move set is her expanding arsenal of hats. Each gives a unique ability, be it sprinting, revealing hidden platforms, or even just pointing the way to the goal. Some certainly end up being more useful than others, but the game makes it a breeze to swap between them on the fly; opening the hat selection wheel significantly slows down the action, giving some leeway if quick swaps are needed. New hats can be unlocked by collecting hidden balls of yarn, and the “open world” nature of the levels means that there’s often plenty of reason to return and hunt down secrets once you’ve acquired a new power. A great help is that, while some levels require a particular hat to complete, the game will warn you prior to entering if you don’t have the necessary equipment. Personally, I only ran into this problem on one occasion, but I also tended to explore almost every nook and cranny of the maps.
Hats can also be equipped with badges that give various passive effects. These can range from turning your basic attack into a powerful laser, reducing the cooldowns on your hat abilities, or even replacing all the voiced dialogue with random mumbles and grunts. Some badges certainly feel more useful than others (e.g. the “mumble” one), but they add a healthy bit of diversity to Hat Kid’s abilities to accommodate some different playstyles.
In an approach that will be familiar to fans of Super Mario 64 and the like, most levels in each world take place in the same setting, just with different goals and modifications as necessary. While this may cause déjà vu to set in for some, most levels are short enough that the game rarely tried my patience. Plus, it makes it a lot easier to seek out the many hidden collectibles, as they’re often accessible in every level, though possibly on a more direct route in some instances. This pattern does get broken up by boss battles, though, which are arguably the best part of the game. Featuring varied attacks, visually impressive arenas, and some of the catchiest songs in the game’s score, each boss is a challenging treat in its own way.
In addition to the main level set, there are also hidden “Time Rift” levels that generally are either contained collect-a-thons or straightforward platforming challenges. Completing these (as well as finding hidden tokens in the main levels) will unlock various aesthetic modifications, from remixed versions of the soundtrack’s songs to new color palettes and hat accessories for Hat Kid. The main gripe I have with these is that they get doled out too slowly; by the end of the game, I had received what felt like only a handful of add-ons, and given the fact that they’re randomly selected via an in-game slot machine, they felt pretty tacked on and unimportant.
“It’s hard to describe, but A Hat in Time is just really darn fun.”
The visuals are something of a mixed bag. Overall, the game has a colorful, unified art style, with adorable characters and interesting level designs. However, there are also many low-quality textures, with some surfaces appearing to be a simple flat color. Part of this is down to the aesthetic, but it’s mainly a case where some areas (especially later ones) are so gorgeous to look at that the less-polished parts stand out even more. At least the loading screens are punctuated with wonderful artwork unique to each level.
The insufficient polish is something that unfortunately pervades much of the experience. Thankfully, the only “game-breaking” bug I ran into was an instance where I hid from a monster, and it sat and camped my hiding place until I eventually came out and died. Even then, once I respawned, I didn’t have any further troubles. Otherwise, there’s just an assortment of issues that make the game’s limitations quite apparent. The camera often rotates into walls, showcasing vast expanses of empty space behind them. Animations sometimes can glitch out, especially when sliding down walls. Moving platforms occasionally trapped me until the game suddenly snapped me back to a “reasonable” location. There were some clipping issues and invisible walls, with a few characters simply floating on thin air. Lastly, while it’s not a technical problem, many sections of the game involve jumping between narrow wires and cables. While your mileage may vary, I found it to be quite difficult to land properly on the cables, with my depth perception often making me over- or under-shoot.
The bottom line is that none of that really mattered, though. They were minor hiccups in a game that remained consistently entertaining for the 13 hours it took to complete the story and many side objectives (totaling to 87% completion, according to the main menu). It’s hard to describe, but A Hat in Time is just really darn fun. I kept telling myself, “Just one more level”, and before I knew it, I’d been playing for hours on end. It does a fantastic job of drawing inspiration from genre classics and adding just enough of a twist to feel fresh and engaging. If you need something to tide you over until Super Mario Odyssey, or just want some of that good old Nintendo charm on another system, you should make time for A Hat in Time.
*** PC key provided by the publisher ***
- Fast, fluid gameplay
- (Mostly) great voice acting
- Fantastic soundtrack
- Awesome, challenging boss battles
- Minor technical problems
- Fairly easy and short