A Hat in Time: a challenging and fascinating platformer
A Hat in Time might just be the pop of color you need during this frigid holiday season. Developed by Gears for Breakfast and published by Humble Bundle (right?!), another solid game has snuck in right at the end of 2017. I found this game to be as surprising in gameplay as it is wonderful to look at.
We are seeing a slow resurgence of great 3D platformers. A Hat in Time finds clear inspiration in the platforming of 3D Mario titles and Banjo-Kazooie, then mixes in a bit of wit and adult humor found in a game like Psychonauts. The story begins with “Hat Girl” embarking on a trip across space when she loses her fuel, hour glass shaped time pieces, that appear to wield some magical abilities. The star system’s strange and varied inhabitants are all working against Hat Girl to recover the time pieces including a girl with a mustache, appropriately named Mustache Girl!
Don’t let the larger than life characters and the cute as heck visuals lure you into thinking this is an easy 100%. This game is challenging in the breadth and depth of the types of things you need to do over the course of the game. The game is segmented into five chapters, with “acts” marking each of the game’s levels. Chapter 1 feels very traditional for a 3D platformer, but after a few introductory levels the training wheels are taken off and the true charm of the game really begins to come out. Coming into the game blind, the humor took a moment to land, but that quickly grew on me as well as soon as I saw the second world.
Over the course of the game Hat Girl is able to unlock different… wait for it… HATS! And each of those hats grant her new abilities, like moving quickly, finding hidden platforms, and launching projectiles. While the time pieces are the main collectible in the game, a secondary currency found throughout the game’s realms allows Hat Girl to purchase new “badges” for her hats. The badges further augment her abilities, with a few of them being critical to completing some of the levels in the game, like the grappling hook. Mixing and matching hats and badges is also key to defeating each of the Worlds bosses, which are no joke. We are talking like Japanese style boss battles with no health bars and various patterns to recognize. They’re wild, to be sure.
My favorite world is one of the final ones in the game: Alpine Skyline. This world is probably one of the most brilliant ones to look at and also combines all of the different abilities and mechanics that the player learns in the other worlds. The world is broken up into a series of mountainous regions that look like islands set high above the clouds. Skyward Sword fans may find some comfort here. Hat Girl uses her grappling hook to glide across zip lines to each of the major regions to recover each of the time pieces located in each. In what I feel is a nod to the player at that stage of the game, the only instructions for this world is “do whatever you’d like.” I did, and it was very satisfying.
For anyone jumping into A Hat in Time my advice would be to immediately go into the settings and set the camera control to manual. There were some tricky high wire jumps early in the game in which the camera rotated as I was jumping, causing Hat Girl to plummet to the bottom of the world. Once auto camera was disabled my experience with the game was much more enjoyable. I would also recommend that players not be afraid to get into the other worlds as quickly as possible. You can bounce around to different worlds on your wacky spaceship at your own free will. Finally, if you get really stuck in a certain part of the game you can also enable a setting to skip cut scenes. I appreciate the setting being there, but never enabled in on principle alone, letting the game run as intended.
Its impressive that such a small team was able to pack such a big punch in a 3D platformer. There are so many places that a game like this can fall flat, and A Hat in Time avoids those pitfalls to deliver a genuinely fun and challenging experience. The game is available on PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 and definitely belongs in any platform or adventure gaming library.
As a bonus… be on the lookout for two more worlds coming as free DLC, along with co-operative play, according to the game website! Don’t miss this one.