Although they aren’t as common as they used to be, we’re experiencing a glut of 3D platformers at the moment. As soon as ex-Banjo Kazooie devs Playtonic released Yooka-Laylee people were already clamoring over Super Mario Odyssey. However, even with some stiff competition A Hat in Time deserves some serious recognition for just how charming and fun it is. While obviously a throwback to classic 3D platformers, A Hat in Time manages to tackle the genre in some clever ways and executes on them extremely well.
The game starts with player character Hatgirl relaxing on her spaceship, whereupon things quickly go awry after a mafioso knocks on her window. Why is there a mafioso in space? Why does a spaceship have a window? Before these all-important questions can be so much as asked, Hatgirl must embark on an epic quest across four different worlds in search of her hourglass-shaped fuel source that was lost in the commotion.
Unlike many of its inspirations, A Hat in Time smartly limits the collectables found in these four worlds to three main items: the aforementioned hourglasses, balls of yarn, and medals. Hourglasses serve as the MacGuffin for the player to perform a variety of tasks in service of gaining access to new worlds. The yarn is used to create new hats, thus unlocking more abilities; and the medals are used to buy cosmetic upgrades such as new hat designs, colour schemes, and soundtracks. They all offer good incentives for exploring the level, and tackling platforming challenges. There are also gems, which are used to purchase new abilities, but they are scattered so densely throughout the levels that you’ll practically be swimming in them just walking from point a to point b.
The same, pared down, approach applies to the mechanics as well. Hatgirl’s basic moveset contains a double jump, a really cool and useful horizontal dive, and a grappling hook unlocked partway through the game. The various hats in the game offer new powers, such as a hat that lets you sprint, or a hat that phases different platforms in and out of the level, but these are all limited to a single button. A Hat in Time keeps things simple, but wrings these simple mechanics for all they’re worth. Later platforming challenges become truly devious, requiring combinations of these systems with near perfect precision. Thanks to how simple it is to execute seemingly complex maneuvers the game never becomes overly challenging, but remains incredibly rewarding to pull off.
Aside from the pure mechanics of the game, one of the best things about A Hat in Time are the variety of colourful characters you meet: such as friend and rival Moustache Girl, the moon-based Disco Penguin who helps turn Hatgirl into a movie mogul, and a terrifying demon that steals your soul, or at least what’s left of it after becoming a movie mogul. The dialogue for these characters is just as charming as the game’s aesthetic, making me genuinely laugh out loud more than a few times. But, it’s a shame that the voice acting is hit or miss. The acting for the demon I just mentioned is fantastic, completely commanding the scene and effortlessly switching between pure terror, and more lighthearted comedy at the drop of a hat. The disco penguin, however, really doesn’t bring much to his lines.
The locals aren’t the only aspect that bring the game’s various locales to life. Each level feels wholly unique, complete with different aesthetics, designs, and mission types. A level in Mafia Town might have you battle a herd of mafiosos then finding their hidden treasure vault, while the Moon Movie Studio level will have you playing Inspector Poirot as you investigate a suspicious murder on a train where the main suspect is none other than a murder of crows. No matter what situation you find yourself in, the level is sure to be superbly crafted and filled with interesting sights around every corner.
The one area that feels like a misstep is the abilities system. You gain new abilities by buying badges from a mysterious and glitchy shopkeeper. These badges net you a variety of in-game powers such as turning your umbrella attack into a laser beam, or upgrading your sprint into a scooter with the trade-off being that you can only equip one at a time. It works well enough until you encounter badges that, for all intents and purposes, are mandatory for playing the game. While it is possible to buy upgrades that allow you to equip up to three badges at the same time, it seems odd that at least one of them will always be taken up by the incredibly necessary grapple hook ability. Sure, you could go in and out the menu to change it, but hardly a minute goes by before you need to use it again. Still, it’s a flaw in a tangential system that does little to tarnish an otherwise great game.
A Hat in Time (Reviewed on Windows)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
A Hat in Time doesn’t reinvent the 3D platforming wheel, but it walks it with such confidence and panache that it would be criminal to overlook this game.