A Hat In Time
[ Introduction ]
The 90s and early 2000s were a great time to be a gamer. Games weren’t as expensive to make as they are now, which meant companies dared to be experimental more often, and every single game they made didn’t need to be a blockbuster to be considered a success. Even moderate sales encouraged them to make more of the same, but improve upon it. In those days, coming fresh from the 2D era of the Super Nintendo and Mega Drive, 3D platformers like Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, Crash Bandicoot, and later Jak and Daxter, Sly, and Ratchet & Clank were dominating the market. These, in turn, inspired countless other developers to give their take on the genre and to further experiment with new concepts and ideas to bring something new to the table. This too, prevented an otherwise simple genre from becoming stale, as seen with games like Vexx, Scaler, Sphinx and the Cursed Mummy, Legend of Kay etc. There is a reason this era is sometimes called” the mascot era” because everyone wanted to create their own anthropomorphic animal platformer and get a piece of the pie. And the more, the merrier, right? They may not all have been winners, but they at least tried, and most of them did have their own unique identity.
In recent years, however, games have become more and more expensive to make, leading the bigger companies to slowly fall away from their more experimental ways, in favour of sticking to single IPs that have proven themselves to sell (looking at you, Ubisoft). This long-forgotten era however still lives on in the hearts of those who played these games as kids, and now that they have grown up and begun making games themselves, they’re feeling reminiscent of the good old days they long for. This can be seen in many of the 2D sprite-based indie games that have come out over the last decade, whether you are getting tired of them at this point or not.
But one genre that still remains largely a relic of the past is the 3D platformer. Some have tried to bring it back in recent times, like Playtonic’s Yooka-Laylee, made by ex-Rare developers as a love letter to the Banjo games, and more recently, our star of today, Gears for Breakfast’s A Hat in Time, which also seeks to harken back to those simpler times. But does it succeed, or are 3D platformers just lost in time?
A Hat in Time opens with our mute heroine, known only as Hat Girl, waking up in her fancy-looking spaceship. As she goes about her daily routine on the bridge, she sees that she has arrived at a strange looking planet, and soon after a peculiar looking mafia guy knocks on her window, demanding that all citizens of Mafia Town must pay taxes, even in space. She tried to show him off, but not taking no for an answer he breaks into her spaceship, a decision he immediately regrets, as the pressure forces both him and the unlucky hat girl plummeting towards the planet. Furthermore, the pressure from space is so powerful, that it rips open the vault containing all of the hourglass-shaped ” time pieces” fueling her spaceship, and she now watches helplessly, as all 40 of them are scattered across the planet.
Hat Girl soon finds herself in the heart of Mafia Town, where a mysterious looking girl her own age with a mustache, appropriately named Mustache Girl, helps her find and gather the lost time pieces, saying that as long as it involves messing with the mafia guys, she is on board. However, she soon discovers the time pieces true potential, and when Hat Girl then refuses to help her use their power to take over the world, she immediately turns on Hat Girl, vowing to collect all the time pieces before you.
That is the initial setup, and even though A Hat in Time isn’t exactly deep, it still keeps the story going. It’s constantly introducing new characters in its various chapters, who are absolutely booming with personality and who all have their own agenda concerning the time pieces. It is, by all means, a cartoony game with a fittingly cartoony plot right out of a Saturday morning show, but it does manage to pull you in and keep you invested in its immersive and colourful world.
[ Gameplay ]
As mentioned in the story, A Hat in Time is, by all means, a good old collect-a-thon. Hat Girl is stranded on a foreign planet, where she needs to re-acquire all of her spaceship’s lost time pieces in order to make it back home to her own world. With your ship functioning as your base of operations, you use your telescope to select a mission on the planet, after which you go collect the time piece in question, similar to Super Mario 64, when you entered a painting and were presented with a set of missions as to what star you wanted to pursue.
As I touched on a moment ago, each of the game’s chapters/worlds are creative, colourful, and have fun level design that increasingly takes full advantage of Hat Girl’s growing moveset, while also having a completely unique identity of their own to make sure it ain’t just your run of the mill Mario 64 clone. No cliche forest world, water world, lava world etc. here! Tradition is fine, but I appreciate originality just as much, as that is ultimately what makes a game stick out to me.
While you are in search for your assigned time piece, you are then free to use Hat Girl’s increasingly agile mobility to explore the world she has found herself in. You start with a double-jump and a long-jump, but as you unlock more hats and pins, you gain more abilities. You also have a melee attack, of course. As you start the game you only have your bare fists, but you soon get an umbrella (yes) to punish your enemies with – hey, a girl’s gotta defend herself.
Throughout the stages, you come across balls of yarn, that when enough are collected, you can use as blueprints to create new hats via the menu, and these hats each come with their own ability. The iconic hat you start off with has the simple but neat ability to highlight the direction of your current objective, while another hat you unlock early on gives you the ability to sprint and so on. You also stumble on a freaky looking fella from time to time, who looks all glitched up, from whom you can buy special pins to set on your hat for added abilities. As someone who myself likes to decorate my cap with badges I really like this concept (damn, someone beat me to it!), and while using pins/badges to grant new abilities is nothing new (as seen in The World Ends With You), it is also not an overused idea – and it fits perfectly fine with A Hat in Time’s hat gimmick. They even have the detail of the pins actually being shown on the hat you are wearing. That is attention to detail I admire.
You do have to buy them though, as I mentioned, but currency isn’t exactly hard to come by, showing up everywhere in the form of orbs, being just as common as coins in a Mario game.
You can’t have an infinite number of pins equipped though, so as you gather more, although you can enhance your capacity, you will have to mix and match your favourite pins to find the combination you feel works best for you. I mean, if you could equip them all at once I imagine you’d quickly break the game in half, so I am glad they balanced it out this way, plus I am always looking forward to meeting the glitch guy to see what new stuff he has to offer.
I have played my fair share of 3D platformers, and they all follow a similar formula of consistently having your character evolve and learn new/exciting moves to make the game more fun, and I think A Hat in Time absolutely nails this aspect of the genre.
As you collect more time pieces, you then unlock new sections of your spaceship, containing all sorts of interesting and wacky doohickies that the developers all have snarky and sarcastic comments for, along with a telescope that grants you access to the next chapter of the game, like how the stars in Mario 64 allowed you to access new areas of Peach’s castle
[ Visual and Perfomance ]
The graphics are equally as gorgeous. I mean, A Hat in Time is by no means a graphically demanding game – or Death Stranding levels of detailed – but for a silly, fun cartoony adventure the graphics are bright and colourful, the worlds brimming with detail, and time has shown that these are the games that age the best.
For as chatty as the game is though, I do feel they could have worked a bit more on the gestures of the characters. For instance, in chapter 2 there is this dog/owl looking guy who just repeats the same motions over and over and over regardless of his mood or whether he is actually talking or not. Contrary, none of the characters have any mouth/lip animations whatsoever, they all just seem to be ventriloquists. So, for as much detail that has otherwise been put into the game, character interactions could have been improved upon.
The game sports some pretty heavy load times here and there, and especially upon booting the game up- the title should have been “A Load in Time! Other than that it runs more or less flawlessly. I mean, I am not trained in the fine arts of framerates, so I couldn’t for the life of me tell you if it keeps a steady 30 or dips below, I just enjoy the game.
I also haven’t played the game on other platforms, so I don’t know how it compared in graphics or loading times either. But again, with a cartoony game like this you can rarely tell the difference between platforms anyway, and considering the developer initially said that a Switch port wouldn’t happen, I am just glad we got one that runs this smoothly.
[ Sound ]
As you land at the main menu, you are treated to a kickass track that gets you pumped right up for the adventure, and is only an appetizer for what is to come. I may be jumping the gun a bit here, but Gears for Breakfast spared no expenses with A Hat in Time’s soundtrack. Love, care, and atmosphere has been carefully composed into every bit of it, and something even rarer… everyone in the entire game, even the minor NPC’s you can talk to, are fully voiced in English.
They don’t take themselves seriously at all, with the mafia fellas putting on a satirical Italian accent with dialogue that is just as humorous, and the notorious Mustache Girl rocking an Irish accent. But silly dialogue and satire or not, they all give a stellar performance, and you can definitely tell they all had fun with their lines.
Honestly, at this point in time full voice acting should be a standard in games, and even Zelda has finally realized it is not 1998 anymore.
[ Conclusion ]
In all aspects, A Hat in Time is a love letter to the 3D platformers of yesteryear, but it also does so exceedingly well and manages to far outdo its predecessors. A Hat in Time was initially crowdfunded and had been underway for years before it finally landed on Steam and PS4, and now it has landed on Switch which is the version I have been covering. The wait has been very well worth it. As Miyamoto’s immortal words go, ” a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad”.
3D platformers are still, unfortunately, a rarity to see these days, as they take a long time to make, and most big companies are still not interested in making them. Should they re-surface as a mainstream genre though, A Hat in Time is THE blueprint to follow on how to make a modern one. It has all the things we loved about the ones that came before, but with the quality of life improvements of today.
I, therefore, give A Hat in Time my highest recommendation, and regardless of price I urge you to show the developers some love on whatever platform you prefer. On Switch, you can even buy a bundle that contains the Seal the Deal DLC which contains a whole extra chapter for a bargain. The “Nyakuza Metro” DLC is also coming to the Switch version very soon so keep an eye out for that as well.
If you like platformers check out our review of Songbird Symphony HERE!