Hats off to you!
At the tail end of 2017, I found myself knee deep in the experience that was the game Super Mario Odyssey for the Nintendo Switch. After being rather disappointed in Yooka-Laylee‘s release earlier this year, I was so happy to receive a stellar 3-D platformer that hit multiple notes of both fun and nostalgia that I couldn’t refrain from shouting about it to everyone that would listen. However, amongst all of the dialogue that was being shared, there was one friend that would talk of another similar 2017 game that he actually found to be more enjoyable than Mario Odyssey which went by the name of A Hat in Time. I had a seriously hard time believing that this would be the case, and I was also unlikely to confirm it due to the game having only been released on Steam. Fast-forward two weeks later and I not only learn that the game was getting a console release, but that I was also going to be fortunate enough to write a review on it! Does it live up to the expectations set by my aforementioned friend? Well then…
An Unexpected Adventure
Developed by Gears for Breakfast, A Hat in Time is a 3-D adventure platformer about a nameless space traveler known, affectionately, only as “Hat Kid.” While traveling through space en route to her home planet, she is stopped by a mafia representative from the nearby planet/city of “Mafia Town.” This odd character forcibly lets himself into the Kid’s ship in order to collect a toll on her for crossing through their orbit. Unfortunately, this foolhardy plan goes completely awry resulting in both the Kid and her ship’s entire supply of Time Pieces careening out of the ship and down to the planet below! Hat Kid’s spaceship is powered by these Time Pieces, which means that she needs to collect them in order to return to her home world. And thus, the stage is set and the adventure itself can truly begin!
If much of what was said above managed to make little sense to you now, then I can assure you that it doesn’t make much more sense when the game is in motion. It is an absolutely ridiculous premise, and that is entirely the point. With the story coming unhinged from the very start, it makes the crazy scenarios and characters that you encounter as you play feel completely normal – even though they would feel completely out of whack in a tale of more traditional proportions.
Time’s a Waistin’!
Beginning in the game’s first world, Mafia Town, Hat Kid will hop and bop through each locale in search of Time Pieces. Reminiscent of Super Mario 64, individual Time Pieces located in each world are broken up into individual episodes. Think of each world as a TV show, and each episode as a continuation of that TV show – each capping off with the discovery of a new Time Piece. Each episode, in addition to world plot continuation, also carries subtle environment and set piece location changes allowing for each world dive to feel a little different between the episodes. You’ll meet a cast of colorful characters, ranging from a spry mustached girl to a wisecracking culinary cat, and each will bring their own bit of humorous dialogue to the table. And, once you’ve acquired a certain number of Time Pieces the next world will unlock, and you will realize that this world is COMPLETELY unique from the previous one, thus giving you a completely new environment with its own events and characters to explore.
The episodes that I mentioned above aren’t your typical platformer scenarios either. On one of them, you may be tasked with frightening an eccentric mafia scientist into believing that extraterrestrials exist. In another episode, you may find yourself trying to resolve a murder mystery on a train populated by wacky bird creatures. I could ramble off a number of other scenarios as well, but I feel as though they would be best left as a surprise to the player. But trust me when I say that a number of these will have you grinning from ear to ear with laughter and joy.
The More (Hats), the Merrier
When traversing these episodes, Hat Kid will have a set of traditional platformer abilities at her disposal. There’s the jump, the double jump, the slide/dive, and melee attack. But the most awesome element to her abilities comes in the form of the many hats that she has at her disposal! Initially, she only has her default headwear but throughout the game, you can locate various balls of yarn with each pertaining to a different hat. Once you’ve found a ball of yarn for a specific type of hat along with a required number of miscellaneous balls of yarn, Hat Kid can take the components and use them to craft herself a new hat! Hats can be switched on the fly with the press of a button and each one provides the Kid with a new ability. These can range from a much needed sprint to a ground pound, and other wacky moves. It made me feel excited to come across a new hat type and then very anxious to acquire the yarn needed to create it and learn what it does.
As this is a 3-D platformer, there are a number of other items to collect in addition to hats and balls of yarn. There are gems that can be collected and used at vendors located on each world to purchase badges for your hat. Each badge bestows various abilities to Hat Kid that work in addition to the hats. Each world has its own unique collectibles which can be used to either further the world’s story or to reward you with additional jewels or yarn balls. There are also secret presents that contain relics used in a rather weird art exhibit matching game back on the Kid’s ship. Lastly, there are time rifts hidden on both the ship and on each individual world. When located and collected, they will teleport Hat Kid to a warped floating sub stage where she can locate additional Time Pieces.
There is quite a bit of action in this game for Hat Kid to do, and you’ll be glad to know that, for the most part, the controls won’t be giving you trouble as you undertake this challenge. That isn’t to say that there won’t be some moments where you’ll be timidly walking to avoid falling off a precarious perch, but that would be more the fault of a winding narrow walkway and not the controls themselves. There are some unfortunate moments when the camera decides to hang onto some closed quarters walls making for a rather jumbled visual experience. But these situations are rare enough that they don’t harm the play experience in any lasting way.
Sights and Sounds Galore
Visually, the game is a colorful masterpiece with lively characters, vibrant skies, and succulent meats gleefully rolling along the landscape. Yes, I meant that exactly as I typed it! Each world has its own distinct personality, and the graphics allow them to be on full display, making each a joy to behold. The accompanying music is great too, with tunes ranging from stuff that works within the game itself to a number of tracks where I’d happily listen to them via headphones. The voice work was well done, though it took me awhile to accept that each world’s non-specific generic population is voiced by the same person per character type. However, each line is colorfully delivered in a way that will make you glad that you are able to hear that mafia man VA over and over again with new lines to share.
A Pinnacle of Platforming
Ultimately, I came away from A Hat in Time very pleasantly surprised! I cannot say for sure whether or not this game is superior to Super Mario Odyssey and, even if I did, I wouldn’t be all that comfortable expressing that here in this review. But, what I can say, is that A Hat in Time is a fine example of a superb 3-D platformer that any fan would be wise to experience for themselves. It deserves a chance to wow you as it did me, and I am absolutely confident that there is room in your palette for this exceptional platformer adventure in your gameplay timetable. It’s time to put on your best hat, step out into the great unknown, and say hello to your newest video game buddy, Hat Kid. You won’t regret it.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One, PC ; Publisher: Humble Bundle ; Developer: Gears for Breakfast ; Players: 1 ; Released: December 5, 2017 (PS4) ; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone Ages 10+ ; MSRP: $29.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a copy of A Hat in Time given to Hey Poor Player by the publisher