A Hat in Time (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Rudy Lavaux 17.10.2019

Review for A Hat in Time on Nintendo Switch

After a successful kickstarter campaign in 2013 and four years of a labour of love by Gears for Breakfast, A Hat in Time released on PC to critical acclaim in October 2017, with ports to PS4 and XBox One releasing a couple months later. It was indeed very well received by Cubed3 staff, both on PC and XBox One. That fantastic game paid more than a big homage to the great classics of 3D platforming of the collectathon disposition that were popular in the days of the Nintendo 64. It was still however nowhere to be seen on a Nintendo system, so Switch owners clamoured for a port to arrive on Switch, which at first were dismissed by the developer. One of the main reasons cited was that no official port of Unreal Engine 3, which A Hat in Time was built on, existed for the system. In August 2018 however, it was announced that the game would finally, indeed, come to Nintendo's hybrid system, in no small part due to the system proving to be a roaring success no doubt and indie titles performing rather nicely on it. On October 18th 2019, the title will finally land on Switch, with even a full retail release to follow on November 8th.

The heroine of A Hat in Time is an unnamed little girl, often referred to outside the game as Hat Kid and in-game as "Some Girl" or other random nicknames given to her by NPCs. She travels through space in her ship and passes over mafia town on an unknown planet. One of the mafia goons knocks at her ship's window asking her to pay the right to pass through, as mafia does, and in opening a hole in the glass, gets all of her precious hourglass-like "time pieces" to get sucked out into space and scattered all over nearby planets. Those are her ship's fuel though! She will then need to recover all of them, that's 40 in total over 5 main stages without counting the DLC content, in order to complete her adventure.

40 may not sound like much for a 3D platformer, compared to classics like Banjo-Kazooie's 100 puzzle pieces or Super Mario 64's 120 stars or, on Switch, the hundreds of moons of Super Mario Odyssey. However most of those time pieces have their own accompanying little scenario to motivate their retrieval, coming with heaps of fully voice acted dialogue and little missions that even venture into their own little sub-genre like solving a crime on a train for example, as opposed to some of those aforementioned games' main collectables just sitting in the open waiting to be collected. Even with that in mind, A Hat in Time is a bit shorter than those classics, but it is an intense and all but repetitive romp. Likewise, if 5 stages may not sound like much, those are also a lot larger and more rich than anything any of those aforementioned games has to offer, except perhaps Super Mario Odyssey.

Accompanying the main stages are time rifts, which play more or less like the block stages from Super Mario Sunshine, with many platforms floating above a vast abyss and Hat Kid having to traverse those complex obstacles to reach a time piece at the end. There are also special time rifts, one per stage, which give the player the opportunity to collect pages of a book explaining how the inhabitants of said stage came to live there. Then, the Seal the Deal DLC pack is also available at launch though sold separately on the eShop, which adds one more stage and 3 acts for a total of six more time pieces to be collected. Also included is a new challenge mode called Death Wish, as well as extra outfits, hat designs, dyes for the Hat Kid's hair and clothes, and so on. Another DLC pack called Nyakuza Metro should become available later down the line, which among other things adds 10 more time pieces, bringing the grand total to 56.

Screenshot for A Hat in Time on Nintendo Switch

Hat Kid has some great possibilities of movement right from the start. For jumps, she has a basic one, a double jump and a dive from midair which itself can be cancelled still in midair to regain just a bit of extra height. She can also run up walls for a brief time and this can link into a wall jump. All of those can be chained. She can also dive to the ground to slide on it and jump back up to get a little speed boost for faster movement. For attacks, while in midair, she can launch herself towards enemies, like Sonic, bashing into them at a press of the Y button. She also gets an umbrella to attack with, very early on. The freedom of movement and the flow of jumping, double jumping, diving forward and attacking feels superbly responsive and while some of her later abilities may not be very self explanatory, at least until a NPC gives a word of explanation, the controls of A Hat in Time show true mastery of the genre. Camera control is entirely manual and sometimes getting the camera into the right spot in the middle of the action can be a bit tricky but never do the controls make the game feel unfair. A second player can even join in and help collecting stuff, controlling the brown haired Bow Kid, although only Player 1 controls the camera so if Hat Kid runs ahead, leaving Player 2 to fumble off screen, the latter gets teleported back to Player 1's position. There's certainly some fun to be had that way even if that won't be the be all, end all of the experience.

The main attraction about Hat Kid however are, well, the hats that she can wear. Collecting specific balls of yarn in the stages unlocks new hats with varying powers like the power to throw explosive potions, or to turn into an ice statue and slam the ground. Then the girl can also attach unlockable badges to her hat to gain more abilities beyond those of the hats, like a compass pointing to nearby trinkets. Speaking of which, beyond the time pieces, the are various relics from earth scattered around which when combined together at specific pedestals within Hat Kid's ship, unlock those aforementioned special time rifts. Special coins can also be found which can be invested in a slot machine to unlock remixes of the game's soundtrack or alternative hat designs among other things.

The worlds of A Hat in Time are then populated well enough by all sorts of collectables that make thorough exploration a worthwhile prospect as it all feels very rewarding indeed. The soundtrack helps making the feel of the game. Level design can be a bit anarchic at times, but ultimately the experience is a pleasant one at all times and this is driven primarily by the excellent writing and, rather unexpectedly, the top notch voice acting. Characters can be over the top, indeed, but the feel is that of a cartoon... an excellent one! More than anything, the humour and pop culture references are super entertaining. There's even some dark humour in there too at times, hence the T for Teen rating by the ESRB.

Screenshot for A Hat in Time on Nintendo Switch

All of those things can be said of A Hat in Time on any platform. But this review is specifically of the newly released Switch version. So how did that turn out? Well one thing to be understood is that A Hat in Time did not push any graphical boundaries in its initial release on PC, XBox One and PS4. Characters already looked rather technically simplistic there, though stylistically very attractive as a whole nonetheless. The geometry of the scenery can also look like it doesn't push big numbers of polygons, which actually helps the gameplay since platform edges are clearly well defined and not made confusingly hard to figure out by cluttered detail like foliage, etc. None of this has changed in its transition to the Switch. Rather, A Hat in Time always pushed more for modern visual effects rather than complex geometry. It was developed for Unreal Engine 3 and uses many advanced effects like bloom around light sources, reflective surfaces, depth of field and motion blur. Those are mostly intact on Switch.

Yet, some corners still had to be cut in bringing the game to Switch. For one thing, Unreal Engine 3 does not have a public native port to Switch, unlike Unreal Engine 4. This means that for a game using UE3 to be released on Switch it has to either be retooled from scratch for another engine, which few if any indie developer could afford, or for UE3 itself to be ported privately to make use of it on Nintendo's handheld, as was the case in the past for something like Paladins for example. That port of UE3 would have to be made either in-house or outsourced to a third party. Either way this is a lot to ask of a smaller developer like Gears for Breakfast, and outsourcing the port would be perhaps too costly. Whatever the case was for A Hat in Time, this would be a hard job regardless. Long before release, Gears for Breakfast announced that their target would be to get the game running at 720p30 while docked while keeping all of the existing visual features of the game present on other platforms. This is very much what can be witnessed here. Without any anti-aliasing to speak of, this means the experience shows some visible jagged edges on a bigger screen. In handheld mode the resolution sits slightly lower, but close enough to 720p that things look really nice, so this will probably be the preferred way to play and this game does indeed feel right at home on a handheld. The tiny joysticks of the JoyCon can make playing certain types of games more complicated than on a pro-controller, but 3D platform games are typically not compromised in the slightest by the smaller form factor and A Hat in Time fully benefits from being on Switch as a result.

Screenshot for A Hat in Time on Nintendo Switch

Certain technical aspects of this port however do feel rather rough around the edges. On bootup, the player is presented with a lengthy load time that shows what appears to be dropped frames on the animated splash screen, followed by a solid black screen for several seconds, convincing this reviewer in the process that the game had crashed on first launch, which wouldn't be a good sign. However it was simply still front loading a whole bunch of things and proceeded to work fine after that. Load times in the middle of the game are a bit shorter, thankfully, but still barely within acceptable limits and, there too, animated splash screens stutter weirdly. This, thankfully doesn't happen when the player is in control, although in one stage in particular for some strange reason, the game would occasionally freeze completely for a whole second, even cutting the music, before resuming at full 30FPS as if nothing happened. But then, on other visits to that one stage, playing the same time piece scenario, or act, and performing all the same actions... nothing of the sort ever happened. Weird.

It is easy to get the game to drop some frames when rotating the camera and pointing it purposefully towards a wide open area that shows dense geometry far into the distance. Under normal gameplay circumstances however, it runs rather smoothly. Texture work in the Switch version can be a bit rough too, showing in some places texture resolutions that look straight out of the PS2/Gamecube era. The design of the game and the effects tend to mask this fact most of the time, but on close examination, the low resolution of some of the 2D assets looks weird indeed. A Hat in Time weighs just shy of 11GB for the base game and just a little over 16GB with the Seal the Deal DLC pack installed. What could all this space be used by then, seeing how low-res the splash screens look as well as some of the textures? Even in handheld mode, the otherwise delightful 2D art introducing every "act" looks sub native resolution and when blown up on an even larger panel in docked mode, this is disappointing to look at.

The roughness of some of those technical points is really the only thing we can complain about, but there is at least hope that some of those can be remedied or ironed out in a patch post-launch. Gears for Breakfast tends to have a good track record in that regard, unlike companies like Capcom that dump their AAA titles as is and never bother to update them. As it stands now, on Switch, A Hat in Time gets a warm recommendation for being a downright hilarious and charming story driving an excellent 3D platforming adventure... but with a word of warning about some of its rougher points which depending on the player, may be more or less hard to overlook.

Screenshot for A Hat in Time on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

A Hat in Time is a delightful 3D platformer, with tight controls, some of the best humour seen in the genre to date and compelling scenarios driving the collectathon aspect of the game. It doesn't revolutionise anything in the presentation department, with rather low polygon models and scenery, but that doesn't take anything away from the enjoyment to be had on any platform it has been released on so far. On Switch, it is held back by some low-res textures and a resolution of only 720p in docked mode, but it does fare better overall in portable mode. Then, still specific to this Switch version is occasional stutter and long load times giving it a rough looking varnish that could perhaps still get ironed out through a patch.

Developer

Gears for Breakfast

Publisher

Humble Bundle

Genre

3D Platformer

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date 18.10.2019   North America release date 18.10.2019   Japan release date 18.10.2019   Australian release date 18.10.2019    Also on Also on Nintendo eShop

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