2017 has been a year that several developers have tried to bring back the once beloved 3D collect-a-ton platformer. Ex-Rare veterans Playtonic took a crack at it with Yooka-Laylee with mixed results. Sumo Digital put a unique spin on the formula with Snake Pass. Nintendo is bringing Mario back to his 3D roots with Super Mario Odyssey. Gears for Breakfast, a small Swedish developer, decided to Kickstart a project that would also attempt to rekindle the love for the genre. A Hat in Time was born. I’ve spent the majority of my week with the game and I’m happy to say that Gears for Breakfast pretty much nailed what makes the genre fun and rewarding.
A Hat in Time stars a little girl oddly named Hat Girl who’s piloting a space ship back to her home planet. An unwelcome visitor sabotages her journey home and all of the time pieces powering her ship drift off into space. Hat Girl must travel to four different planets and complete challenges in order to retrieve them. Along the way, a young mustachioed girl crosses paths with Hat Girl and attempts to retrieve the time pieces for her own personal reasons. While her intentions are good, this obviously throws a wrench in Hat Girl’s plans and fights to beat the mustache girl to the punch.
Players will travel through four different planets connected to Hat Girl’s space ship which acts as a hub world. Each planet has a specific theme, set of challenges, and collectibles to obtain. The goal is to hunt down hourglasses called time pieces that resemble stars from Super Mario 64. One planet consists of a town run by the Mafia, while another is set in a movie studio ran by two species of birds competing for an award. With the exception of the Halloween themed haunted forest planet, the level design and environments are pretty unique for a game of this type.
One challenge in particular sets up a parody of Murder on the Orient Express that intelligently combines a murder mystery with platforming action. The haunted forest planet finds Hat Girl being stripped of her soul and having to complete contracts for a demented ghost in order to retrieve it. The entirety of a later planet acts as one big sandbox where players have to seek out the missing time pieces on their own with little direction. The game does a wonderful job at mixing up the content and delivering unique situations while retaining the tight platforming gameplay we expect.
The game also includes time rifts hidden in each planet. Once found, the player will transport to a special platforming challenge similar to the random challenges found in Super Mario Galaxy. If the player makes it to the end, they will be rewarded with a time piece. These rifts can be difficult to find but I enjoyed the scavenger hunt feeling they provide. The challenges within the time rifts are really fun and some of them are pretty tough.
Hat Girl also has a few special abilities up her sleeve (or on top of her head) in the form of hats that can be swapped on-the-fly. These hats can be crafted by collecting yarn balls hidden in each planet. Once enough yarn balls are found, the player can craft a special hat that can be used to obtain hidden items or reach new areas. One hat allows Hat Girl to turn into an ice statue and rocket off of platforms, while another allows Hat Girl to throw exploding potions. A hat later into the game gives Hat Girl the ability to hook shot and swing off of objects.
Each planet is filled with collectible gems that can be used as currency to unlock new challenges and purchase helpful items. Badges can be purchased from a special (and very creepy) vendor that add special attributes to Hat girl, such as help avoiding damage from falls and a magnet that automatically collects gems. Some badges can make the game more difficult too, such as setting one hit deaths in the game. Relics can also be found that allow the player to decorate Hat Girl’s space ship.
As you would expect, each planet has a main boss that must be defeated in order to fully conquer that planet. Some of these bosses can be skipped over since only 25 out of the 40 time pieces in the game are required to beat it. However, the bosses in the game are fairly challenging and well designed. I did have an issue with two of them in particular that just simply overstayed their welcome. Each boss has multiple phases, which is expected, but two of them contained 5-6 different phases without any checkpoints in-between (with the exception of the final boss). The bosses in question were long, drawn-out and had me begging for them to wrap it up already. Some phases even had lengthy cut-scenes in between, forcing the player to re-watch them or mash the A button to skip over dialog every time.
A good platformer has to have solid controls. Thankfully, Gears for Breakfast knocked that aspect out of the park. The controls in A Hat in Time are tight, responsive and feel wonderful. I played through the game on a standard Xbox One gamepad and it felt great from start to finish. The game does include some goofy camera issues from time to time, like getting stuck in tight spaces, but this is status quo for the genre.
Hat Girl can jump, double jump and dash in the air in order to traverse the obstacles in each planet. I loved how many areas required a long double jump, combined with a dash roll that can be cancelled out at the right moment, to hit far away platforms. Everything feels extremely satisfying and makes A Hat in Time a joy to play.
I have to take a minute to mention the soundtrack and graphics here. The game has a great, joyous soundtrack that’s both catchy and fitting with the game’s tone. The game is very colorful and cutesy with cartoon aesthetics and a Cartoon Network sort of vibe. I did have a few issues with the art design, though. The Mafia Town planet had a ton of repeating NPCs and characters that made the town feel a little lifeless. I didn’t particularly enjoy any of the characters found in the movie studio planet either, but it’s a minor complaint.
Hat Girl herself is cute and quirky but lacks a design that makes her stand out. Regardless, I enjoyed her careless, sassy personality that didn’t focus on being the good guy but instead focused more on her objective at hand. By the time the game wraps up, you’ll be questioning whether or not Hat Girl is even a good person to begin with. The developer helps with this by giving Hat Girl some options that can mold her personality. Personally, I preferred her to be the cold, diligent character we rarely see in character platformers; it was refreshing.
Graphically, A Hat in Time is pretty average looking. The game uses the outdated Unreal 3 engine and doesn’t apply any graphical effects that make it stand out visually. The animations are pretty crummy but considering the game takes inspiration from late ’90s platformers, I’m sure this was intentional. I did enjoy the motion blur employed throughout the backgrounds that made the main level stay in focus nicely. The frame rate also had odd hitches in some areas but mostly stuck to a 60 FPS target on my machine. Still, this is a smaller game on a smaller budget and I didn’t expect AAA quality visuals anyway.
A Hat in Time took me a little over 7 hours to finish. Although, that was accomplished by doing the bare minimum to trigger the end credits. After beating the final boss, players can go back and clean up any challenges or find any collectibles left over. There are a total of 40 time pieces to collect along with many different hats and relics to find too. Gamers looking to 100% the game will probably get a solid 20 hours out of A Hat in Time.
Gears for Breakfast has crafted an excellent little platformer with a charming art design and soundtrack. The game includes incredibly tight controls, fun challenges and plenty of goodies to seek out. While I did take issue with a few boss battles, some camera issues and some dumb looking characters, I thoroughly enjoyed my time here. I honestly feel like A Hat in Time did a better job at revitalizing the 3D character platformer better than Playtonic did. I hope this game is successful because I would love to see the developer follow it up on a bigger budget with the support of a major publisher.
If you’re itching for a solid 3D platformer or want a nice warm-up before Super Mario Odyssey drops later this month, A Hat in Time is highly recommended by me.
(A Hat in Time was played via Steam on PC with a copy provided by the publisher.)