A Hat in Time (PC) review
"The little platformer that could"
2017 was the year of the platformer. Specifically, the 3D platformer. In just twelve short months, we got Super Mario Odyssey (fantastic), Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy (all hail), Yooka-Laylee (Ďsalright), and finally, A Hat in Time. Itís funny, looking back, how that year pitted two newcomers against two of the greatest icons of the genre, and the resulting melee arguably didnít have a clear winner. In fact, itís also strange how both of the fresh-faced newbies were poised to be at each othersí throat, and that of the two underdogs, the one made by a crack team of former Rare developers lost out to a game put together by a bunch of modders.
Thatís right folks; Iíve sat on this one for three years. No coyness here, this oneís a straight-up love letter, but Iím sure youíre here for the insightful opinions.
Before we swan dive into the pile of pillows that is A Hat In Time, I feel obligated to tell you that for the first and last time in my life, I actually had my finger somewhere near the pulse regarding a kickstarter game. That is to say, I ponied up for the ďslacker backerĒ option shortly after the Alpha released, and followed its development closely for years. While Iíd like to say Iím pretty objective about these sort of things, itís best I disclose that fact up front, so everyone knows. With that all sorted out, letís talk about one of my favourite games of all time.
A Hat In Time was released roughly around the same time as Super Mario Odyssey, and got downloaded to my long-serving HDD within minutes. Within seconds of booting the game, I knew I was in for a treat. After a short intro, Hat kid wakes up in her brightly coloured bedroom, filled with cute furniture, and replete with an entire swimming pool of cushions. Itís the kind of thing you wished you had as a kid, and that you still wish you had as an adult. Just a short while later, youíll find your spaceship improbably accosted by a mafia chef sporting a goofy accent, and after a kerfuffle, you find yourself sucked out into the vacuum of space, plummeting towards a tiny planet, as your spaceship loses all of its fuel. So far so normal. From here we get to see the first of A Hat in Timeís widely varied environments: a broadly mediteranean island, populated almost entirely by burly mafiosos with a penchant for gastronomy. Itís a wonder to see for the first time, and from here, the mario sunshine/64 influence is obvious. Even before you get your trusty umbrella in the first mission, you can freely explore the remarkably vertical island, using most of Hat Kidís impressive array of movement options.
Itís difficult to truly say if the gameís environments are its best feature or not, but what I can say is that theyíre all vast, and theyíre all excellent: every last nook and cranny is crammed with details, and thereís not a single area anywhere that feels wasted. The verticality from the first world is also a strength shared across the game, too, with features like huge trees, flying grapple points, mountains, and nooses (yes, nooses) to climb on, swing on, jump on, and do all that good platforming stuff on. Later worlds practically demand a firm control of all of Hat Kidís traversal options, and navigating those worlds is a joy.
Speaking of those traversal options, Hat Kid has some of the most impressive platforming controls Iíve seen. With almost all of Hat Kidís moveset available to you from the get-go, A Hat In Time allows you to freely experiment with movement throughout the game, and skilled players can quickly learn how to chain all those moves together to cover some serious ground. It is entirely possible to chain a wall-jump to a double-jump, to a dive, to a swing, to a further double-jump, end it all in a homing attack, and be ready to jump again. During all that airtime, you retain an admirable amount of control over Hat Kid, too, which allows for a lot of wiggle room, should you find yourself about to dive into lava. Itís not just about in-air maneuverability, though, because Hat Kid can also swim for a reasonable amount of time, and with collectible badges and hats, can deploy a sprint power, and even a scooter, to get where she wants to be, fast. Naturally, you can do a hop on the scooter and a jump dismount, too, because you can never have enough movement options. Put simply, controlling Hat Kid properly is an intoxicating experience, and I defy anybody to take a free-roam around Mafia town and not have a great big grin afterward.
Now, letís get onto those hats, shall we? As the name might suggest, hats play an important role in the game, and donít just exist to give the game a postmodern-hipster-deliberately-long-winded title. For ďbecause platformerĒ reasons, Hat Kid gets magic powers from the hats she wears, and with them come some creative platforming challenges. From a simple waypoint finder hat to a time stop ability, a Hat in Time offers a roster of eight different hats that can be used throughout the game to reach collectibles, find secrets, and overcome increasingly devious obstacles. Said obstacles range from old platforming staples like springs, floating platforms and wall jumps, to platforms that only become solid when using the ďdweller maskĒ hatís ability, and pads that fling you across the environment if you use the ice hat ability on them. Towards the end - and particularly in the DLC levels - the game practically demands that you get used to switching out your hats on the fly. Sadly, some of the hats have more niche uses than others, but theyíre all used to good effect in the game, so thatís not a deal-breaker. As if all that wasnít enough, thereís also hats that you can get for a couple of levels that grant you powers specific to that one particular level, and badges that grant passive abilities which can be swapped out in the pause menu. Itís a veritable cornucopia of platforming challenges, and one thatís made all the better by an unusually flexible moveset.
With the nuts and bolts so securely in place and tightened up, I would have happily let this game get away with a drab environment and no plot, Trepang 2 style, but A Hat in Time offers up some stellar window dressing to go with it. As per classic platformer tradition, A Hat in Timeís plot is rather threadbare, but there is at least a reason to go around collecting everything in sight, and it does come together by the end of the main game. The more impressive details, however, come in the form of the worlds, characters, dialogue, and just about everything thatís not the main plot. Each world in A Hat in Time offers its own unique environments and eccentric characters to interact with, and whole new situations for Hat Kid to get wrapped up in. The third world you end up in, for instance, has you legally becoming a bird to work on two movies at once, at the behest of two rival movie directors who are also birds. The gimmicks offered in these levels alone are positively wild, but they also feature some of the best voice work and dialogue in the game, with ďDJ GroovesĒ and ďThe ConductorĒ playing up caricatures of old and new Hollywood throughout. Both birds feature some of the gameís spirited voice acting, and some of the best lines in the game. The soundtrack is no slouch, either, featuring a strong main theme, varied genres, and even remixes.
Once youíve beaten the main game, A Hat In Time also has some welcome extra features in the form of local and online co-op, great DLC, a wide open modding scene, a mode that makes the game Cuphead difficult, and even a fifty player online jank tank mode. Assuming you donít want to turn your session into total anarchy with the fifty player party mode, the DLC packs offer two great expansions with hours of content, while the mods add all manner of great stuff. Through community made content, you can now play as Mustache Girl and the cut boy character from early in the gameís development, wield a keyblade, play gruelling gauntlets, and even play P.T. Yes, That P. T. Even if you donít want to deal with mods, the aforementioned extra difficulty option still adds extra challenges to the game as part of the Seal the Deal DLC, and I
heartily recommend having a go with them.
Itís not quite sunshine and roses all round, though. In general, I donít have any real complaints, but like all great art, thereís always some room for improvement, and A Hat in Time does come with a couple of rough edges to sand down. While A Hat in Time features some fantastic art direction, the graphics used to present that art are sadly a sticking point: the game was made in either UDK or full-fat Unreal 3, and despite the developersí best efforts, it shows. While itís not an ugly game by any means, things like lighting and round objects all look distinctly dated, which might be okay, if not accompanied by some minor performance issues. Again, itís hardly a crippling problem, but for a game running thirteen-year old software, my graphics card should have been able to chew it up and spit it out. If I had to appoint a culprit, Iíd blame the large areas for demanding a lot of VRAM at higher resolutions, but Iím no expert, and I was definitely playing at a higher resolution than most players will be. Besides performance, I also have some issues with the voice of Mustache Girl. It improved over the development of the game, but I still feel like her delivery came across pretty stale in the final build. For what itís worth, I also encountered a bug on the first day the game was out which caused Hat Kid to spawn into the first level without her hat. Presumably thatís been fixed now, and I caused it by loading a blank save file rather than hitting ďnew game,Ē so thatís not something youíre likely to encounter, but it happened, and I have to consider that.
With all said and done, I canít help but appreciate A Hat in Time for its plucky underdog story as much as its gameplay. Itís a fantastic 3D platformer made half with reverence for the classics, and half with a yearning to forge its own path. Itís a shining example of what a team of dedicated individuals can do, a strong argument against kickstarter games sucking as a rule, and every bit as good as the other platformers released that year. Even with the occasional rough edges, I have no shame in handing out full marks for this one, and I look forward to whatever Gears For Breakfast cook up next.
Now, if youíll excuse me, Iíve got some hats to knit.
Community review by Flobknocker (March 22, 2020)
Flobknocker is the nonsensical nom-de-plume of a British guy who occasionally writes about videogames, and who belongs to a mysterious cult that all gather round a helmet every weekend to perform rituals in the hope of bringing about a new Motorstorm game
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