2017 has been a good year for 3D platformers. It’s a year that saw Crash Bandicoot remasters become best sellers on the PS4, Rare alumni come out with a Banjo and Kazooie spiritual sequel to mixed reviews, and Mario once again bring the the genre to mainstream prominence with Super Mario Odyssey. Like with most modern video game movements, however, smaller developers were not content to let the big boys have all the fun and have thrown their hat in the ring as well.The result of a 2013 Kickstarter campaign, A Hat in Time is just such a game. Is this game one hat-centric platformer too much, or does it have the right to challenge for the crown?
A Hat in Time stars Hat Kid, an adorable little girl with a hat collection that grants her a bevy of unique abilities. Well, to be fair, you have to collect yarn and create most of those hats, but hey, it’s just that sort of 3D platformer. In addition to an enviable array of hats, Hat Kid is also the owner of an impressive spaceship. Unfortunately, due to an encounter with the local mafia, Hat Kid finds that the magical hour glasses that power her ship are now scattered on the surface of a planet she was in the vicinity of. Veterans of the genre can see where this is going. The player must navigate several worlds, ranging from a haunted forest to a Hollywood style movie set, finding hour glasses and all sort of other collectables. Oh, let us not forget about Mustache Girl, a spunky rival character whom I won’t get too into here for fear of spoiling the plot. This story won’t blow anyone away, but the voice acting is on point and it has a very goofy sort of charm that carries the player through the loose narrative.
A Hat in Time is a classic 3D collectathon experience. Arguably the two most important part of 3D platformers are control and level design. This game does both of these things extremely well. At no point in this game did I feel like I did not have control of my character. Even without any bonus abilities, Hat Kid can double jump, wall jump, and dash through the air. Oddly enough, this reminded me a bit or ReCore, but that is likely only because that was the last 3D platformer I played that included those specific movement options. There is also a bit of leeway given for making jumps as Hat Kid scrambles a bit vertically when reaching a new platform. This takes away frustration, but the level design is solid and the game doesn’t feel easy. The levels themselves are designed with Hat Kids abilities in mind, and exploring them for no reason other than to explore is fun. This is not to say that the game is a free form, do what you want sort of experience. The levels are split into different objective based chapters, so while you may be able to explore on your own, your search for hour glasses is dolled out on small objective based chunks. There is also a lot to collect, ranging from string for hats to “pons” as a form of currency, to relics used to unlock bonus levels. If you like collecting things, this game will not disappoint. I want to also state that the boss fights in the game are amazing. This is one area where I think this game actually overtakes Super Mario Odyssey, as the boss fights are actually a challenge while still feeling well designed and engaging. The very first boss fight involves a Mafia boss that charges you with a spin attack, drops sandbags from the ceiling, and even summons a plethora of goons to form a human boulder he rides in an attempt the crush you… and this is only the first boss!
This is an area in which the game excels. This is a very polished experience, and while it does not quite have the sheen of Mario’s latest adventure, neither does it look a cheaply made indie experience. The style of the graphics harken back to the best of the genre, and evoke the feeling of a modernize N64 or Gamecube title. It’s also a weird, funny, and weirdly funny game. I mean, Hat Kid’s rival is a young girl with a mustache. The game’s humor is good for all ages but can be surprisingly dark from time to time. The levels themselves are joyful and creative. They manage to bring forth nostalgic memories without actually feeling like copies of anything in particular. Mafia Island, for instance, has strong Mario Sunshine vibes, while the stealth sections in Battle of the Birds made me think of Psychonauts and Windwaker. What really won me over was the charm, though. This is some of the best game music I heard all year, and that includes big AAA endeavors.
A Hat in Time isn’t perfect. The central narrative isn’t very captivating, the camera is usually good but has a few weird moments on tight corners, and the combat isn’t anything to write home about. What it is, though, is a fun platforming experience that fans of the genre will adore. Also, it has a button to stick your tongue out and one to blow a kiss. As someone that spent the majority of their play time in the original Luigi’s Mansion calling out for Mario, I will tell you it probably deserves a purchase just for that.