A Hat in Time (PC) Review

By Tomas Barry 21.10.2017

Review for A Hat in Time on PC

Following a quiet period for the sub-genre, collectathon platformers, particularly those that tap into gamers' nostalgia for the likes of Banjo-Kazooie and Conkers Bad Fur Day, are making a comeback. Earlier this year saw the release of Yooka-Laylee, a direct spiritual successor to those titles, which pulled on the heartstrings of many to great effect, including this reviewer. However, while that project was a commercial success, it was also critically divisive, since it was so nostalgia-dependant. The same cannot be said about A Hat in Time, in any way, shape or form. Gears for Breakfast has been much more thoughtful about its title, being careful to use collectathon and platformer history only as a launch-pad for much more dynamic and imaginative scenarios. Consequently, it's not only evocative of the greats, such as Super Mario Sunshine, but also carves out its own place alongside them.

Cubed3 interviewed Gears for Breakfast about A Hat in Time back in June 2013. Even back then it was clear that the project had plenty of potential. Jonas Kærlev outlined an intriguing vision of a modern collectathon platformer, drawing both from the rich existing heritage of the sub-genre, as well as from more recent charismatic and playful platformers, such as Psychonauts. The team's Kickstarter campaign was a resounding and instantaneous success, and subsequently hit almost 1000% of the original fundraising goal, making it the most successful fundraiser for an indie 3D platformer ever. Since then, backers, as well as fans of the genre at large, have been eagerly anticipating its release. To be clear from the off, it most certainly was worth the wait. A Hat in Time is a resounding success story, especially considering its humble origins. Not only does it succeed almost everywhere that Yooka-Laylee failed, it even subtly raises expectations for upcoming platformer juggernaut, Super Mario Odyssey.

The premise for A Hat in Time is suitably weird and wacky. The protagonist, Hat Kid, who can stitch hats with magical powers, was travelling home in her spaceship, when a member of the nearby Mafia-planet appears outside and attempts to enter to collect a 'flying-boat tax.' In trying to do so, said Mafia-member ends up smashing a window, which causes all the time pieces (also the fuel of the ship) to be sucked out and dispersed across the planet. This leaves Hat Kid with no choice but to track them all down, and thus the stage is set for this incredibly memorable platform adventure.

Screenshot for A Hat in Time on PC

From the first moment, players are dropped into Mafia Town, and it's clear that A Hat in Time is not just influenced by the collectathon sub-genre, but also by some of the all-time best platformers, such as Super Mario Sunshine. The first world's colourful and vibrant island setting seems synonymous with that title, and each level opens with a stylistically identical transitional sweep of the world, plus a small melodic interlude, just as in Sunshine. As such, it seems like Gears for Breakfast has been very self-conscious, and purposeful, in the way it has engineered space for itself within the genre overall. When Jonas Kærlev spoke with Cubed3, he stated that the main objective for the game was simply to 'bring back collectathons.' However, it is self-evident how evolved the entire experience feels from a mechanical perspective, especially when compared to the experiences of that time.

That's down to several key factors that combine to produce such a fluid, dynamic and finely tuned collectathon platformer experience. Firstly, Hat Kid is just a joy to control. Much like Mario in Super Mario 64, everything feels precise and inherently intuitive, meaning that the player rarely feels hard-done-by when things do go wrong. Hat Kid has a similar array of moves at her disposal to Mario, including the double-jump, melee, a wall-scaling ability, a dive, and the fully integral dive-cancel. That last move is very useful, since it's not just used to extend jump range, but also to adjust and correct Hat Kid's position, something players will be doing frequently.

On top of these fundamental moves, by collecting gems Hat Kid can knit new hats with magic powers, enabling a range of abilities from sprinting and throwing explosives to turning into ice, all of which become a fluid part of her move-set, one way or another! Once acquired, these abilities can be cycled through via a selection wheel or by tapping across on the d-pad, ensuring switching never feels like a chore. These powers typically tend to enable access to initially restricted parts of each world, and the extremely thoughtful application of this helps the longevity of the game significantly.

Screenshot for A Hat in Time on PC

Additionally, an incredible amount of work has gone into ensuring that the camera is never a hindrance, which is an issue that plagues even the best platformers around. Despite plenty of intricate and varied surroundings, in A Hat in Time the camera is seamless and transparent, with absolutely no awkward clipping, unhelpful shifting, or bugs found from start to finish. That's certainly something that Yooka-Laylee doesn't have going for it. While this may seem like a small achievement to point out, there's no doubt that it will please platforming purists and speed-runners alike.

Beyond these mechanical successes, Gears for Breakfast really does appreciate the fact its collectathon is able to do things those original platformers of the mid-nineties could only dream of, due to the limitations of their time. A Hat in Time packs a quite unparalleled sense of variety and dynamic charm compared to the likes of Banjo-Kazooie and other vintage platformers. While there are only four worlds in total, each one has such a distinct sense of craft and design, packed with exceedingly interesting characters, all which shapes the types of challenges to be found in each world. Not every act changes the level fundamentally, but player expectations are so frequently turned on their heads in playful and creative ways that the game always has a fluid, quick-fire sense of contrast. Additionally, the easy-access spaceship hub-world is the perfect size and is not at all over-stated. Hat Kid can go from starring in a murder-mystery adventure, acting in Battle of the Birds, to exploring a Luigi's Mansion-style haunted house, in Subcon Forest, with no unnecessary buffers in-between. That's a particularly smart decision since new abilities give real incentives to return to older levels, without feeling laboured, as in other series.

Screenshot for A Hat in Time on PC

All of this is only aided by A Hat in Time's extremely strong characterisation, comedy and voice-acting, all of which significantly help the overall experience to feel more modern. One of the best characters is Snatcher from Subcon Forest. He's a contractually obsessed shadow spirit that stalks Hat Kid around the level, constantly trying to ensnare her and others. He's a brilliant character (and boss), with such hilarious dialogue that there's no doubt he's the best thing to come out of that world. There are many memorable encounters like this, but it would be spoiling things to talk too much about them, especially given that, in terms of length, the game is more of a short story than a novella.

That is actually something that works to its advantage in many respects. As previously stated, each of the four worlds feels distinct, with its own emphasis and themes, but equal care and attention has also been paid to how collectibles have been integrated across the board. There's no thoughtless excess of items to trundle after, as in Donkey Kong 64. It's clear A Hat in Time's smaller scope has enabled a much more self conscious and balanced approach. Take the relic boxes, for example, which are hidden throughout. You have to gather various pieces of a relic, relating to the world they are from, which can then be put on display on Hat Kid's ship. This is infinitely more engaging than having a bunch of different coloured collectibles, with no real context. Additionally, along the way, players will gather and earn badges that provide neat and helpful mechanical bonuses, although these need to be swapped in and out as only two can be activated at a time. These range from Hat Kid pulling out an umbrella before taking big fall-damage, to being able to magnetically draw in nearby collectibles.

Screenshot for A Hat in Time on PC

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

Rated 9 out of 10

While no single component is particularly revolutionary or unfamiliar to the genre, this is an extremely memorable platforming experience that, unlike its main collectathon rival this year, never feels laboured. This is down to a nicely streamlined but still deep hub and world structure, in conjunction with so many neat touches and playful twists on the collectathon formula. From start to finish, it's charming and funny, with excellent art design and gorgeous visuals. The music from Pascal Michael Stiefel is brilliant (although it's a shame that only a few tracks were contributed by Grant Kirkhope in the end) while the use of real dialogue definitely makes things livelier and more engrossing. Through all this, its sheer charm and its gratifying gameplay mechanics, A Hat in Time affords itself the ability to do what it wants, and ensures that it really goes the distance. It never overindulges in nostalgia or tribute, and it makes sure to poke fun at itself, as well as the rest, along the way. It's a collectathon gem, if ever there was one.

Developer

Gears for Breakfast

Publisher

Gears for Breakfast

Genre

3D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date None   Australian release date Out now   

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