A Hat in Time Impressions—Cutting Edge Nostalgia

Game: A Hat in Time

Developer: Gears For Breakfast

Publisher: Gears For Breakfast

Reviewed: PC

It’s a real blessing when in the middle of a 3D platforming drought, indie delight A Hat in Time swoops in like a deus ex machina and saves the day. Granted, we’ve seen Yooka-Laylee and Ratchet and Clank storming back into the spotlight, but collectathons in the modern era are far and few, so when you endeavour to make one, there’s enormous pressure to get it right. Gears For Breakfast rises to the task with enormous worlds splashed with vibrant colour, corny yet irresistible humour, and a strong variety of collectibles that drive the message home: nostalgia is back.

The hub world is a sight for sore eyes: its unmistakable resemblance to Super Mario 64‘s chequered hall (minus the paintings) provides just enough fan service before adding its own galactic touches. You’re Hat Kid, a spirited young lass who’s booted out of her spaceship when a toll-collecting mafioso rudely breaks through the glass. From there on, it’s a wacky quest through multiple chapters (Mafia Town, Battle of the Birds, Subcon Forest) and acts to reclaim lost hourglass time pieces, which provide Hat Kid’s ship with fuel. Wacky mafia NPCs (who ironically sound more Russian), wacky salesmen who look like Mumbo Jumbo meets Majora’s Mask, and wacky melodies shaped by Pascal Michael Stiefel and Grant Kirkhope coalesce to form A Hat in Time’s definitive charm, and the joyride doesn’t end there.

A Hat in Time‘s chapters are underpinned by a solid, perfectly balanced engagement loop; each act is bursting with green gems (the equivalent of Banjo-Kazooie’s musical notes or DK64’s bananas), balls of yarn (which let you stitch new hats), and a single coveted hourglass piece that unlocks subsequent acts when you’ve gathered enough. But it’s more than just pointless collecting. Exploring the Mafia seaside, evading the relentless security personnel in Dead Bird Studio’s glitzy sets, or meandering through Subcon Forest’s gloomy, decidedly darker habitat will slowly but surely absorb every ounce of your attention—just as Gears For Breakfast intended. Every move is a masterstroke. Freestyle navigation surprises with the reward of extra gems (that replenish on each playthrough), hidden time pieces, relics, and bonus time rifts that function like a microcosm of visible acts. There are even timed challenges that hark back to Super Mario 64‘s adrenaline pumping red coin sequences, yet all these elements are positioned around such visually distinct locations it doesn’t become overwhelming, and the gameplay follows a similar technique.

Ultimately, it’s simplicity and structure that help A Hat in Time flow. Although Hat Kid begins with a basic (but satisfying) umbrella attack, she slowly graduates towards more powerful beams, magical explosions, and ice abilities that have multiple uses. While the enemies aren’t particularly glamorous looking, beating them up is enjoyable and there is variety; swamp spirits that sweetly suffocate, robotic rats, collapsing alien blobs and arrogant mafia. They’re a pleasant distraction from your quest, even if defeating them isn’t enormously challenging. It’s the same story with boss battles, who are easy enough for newcomers to defeat without being total pushovers, and ooze hilarious video game tropes. There’s a tangible undercurrent of humour running through A Hat in Time’s roots, whether it’s slogans like ‘In cod we trust’, self-obsessed penguin film directors, or literary references to mystery novels, and like the 3D platforming heavyweights, there’s just the right amount. On the other hand, the camera alignment could be improved upon.

To make a character walk, run, and jump inside three dimensional worlds without obscuring the player’s view is hard, and this was a frequent source of frustration with older 3D platformers too. For the most part, A Hat in Time nails it, but climbing around tree branches, or walking underneath platforms sometimes leads to inaccurate movements (and falls) because you can’t discern your position spatially, or the camera stutters back and forth, regardless if it’s manually or automatically operated. Hat Kid’s general movement feels fine, though little things could be tidied up here and there, like giving players the choice to drop off ledges, or automatically rise after sliding. Despite these minor hiccups, A Hat in Time’s underlying mechanics are well executed. They form both an intuitive bond with players, and merge holistically with audio-visually rich, exciting, and alluring game chapters that will melt the hearts of even the most skeptical. A Hat in Time is nostalgia done right.

If you had any doubts, A Hat in Time is like a refreshing downpour in an arid desert. Gears For Breakfast has achieved a rare, much needed feat: the creation of an authentic, immersive and entertaining adventure that convincingly reminds us why the 3D platformer was king back in the late nineties.

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A Hat in Time is out now for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. A Nintendo Switch port has not yet been confirmed, but we’re sure it would make a welcome addition amongst games like Yooka-Laylee and Super Mario Odyssey. 

Full Disclosure: A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for purposes of this review.

Good things

  • Superb, colourful visuals
  • Playful soundtrack
  • Good cohesion between collectibles, levels, and overall progression
  • Excellent flow

Bad things

  • Camera angles occasionally inconvenient
  • Particular character moves could be refined