It’s time for the last review of 2017, and I can’t think of a better way to end it than with a dash of pure platforming and adventuring joy. This is A Hat in Time.
Genre(s): Adventure, Platforming
Developer: Gears for Breakfast
Publisher: Gears for Breakfast
Release Date: October 2017
Played Full story
Platforms: PC, PS4, XBOX One
When I first launched A Hat in Time I did so blindly. I had seen the game’s title card on my Steam list and on the Playstation Store but hadn’t bothered checking what it was about. When I received the PS4 review code and launched the game, it was a profoundly pleasant surprise to see that it was a platforming adventure in the same style as Super Mario Galaxy, where you travel from one hub ship to several worlds to collect some powerful McGuffin, in this case timepieces that not only power your ship but can have disastrous effects on the timestream.
In A Hat in Time you play as the Hat Kid, an adorable girl with a snazzy top hat, travelling through time and space on her way home. Sadly, for Hat Kid, her trip takes her across Mafia Town. A burly Mafioso in outer space knocks on her window and demands payment of the local toll, his logic that being in space doesn’t mean she can skip paying up.
Hat Kid, of course, feels disinclined to acquiesce to his request, which prompts the Mafioso to literally crack open the spaceship’s windshield, causing immediate depressurisation, throwing Hat Kid to Mafia Town below her and busting her Timepiece vault open, spreading the hourglass-shaped thingamajigs around space.
If the above description sounds ludicrous in any way, it’s by far the most sensible aspect of A Hat in Time, a game that not only doesn’t take itself seriously but seems to try to redefine “over the top” with every new level, from a haunted wood where a dark spirit takes your souls until you complete tasks for him—which also nets you a few timepieces—to even a movie and record studio with competing bird directors, one an owl and the other a funky penguin.
And that’s without mentioning the main villain of the story, the powerful and vindictive Moustache Girl, hell bent on bringing order and law, even if it means destroying time and space in the process. You meet this lovable scamp in Mafia Town, her home. She’s been fighting the local Mafiosi all her life and has some, well, cruel ideas on what to do with them. When she discovers what timepieces can do and learns that Hat Kid has no intention on using them save as fuel for the ship, she decides she’ll take them herself and “save the universe.”
Speaking of the story, I really liked the idea of having a main villain with good intentions but bad methods. It reminded me of a D&D book I adore called The Book of Exalted Deeds, which deals with just how bad the good guys can be when they become extremists. And extremist is a word that fits Moustache Girl perfectly. A Hat In Time’s story sees you working against the worlds’ villains only to see them killed or brought so low by Moustache Girl that they turn to you to save them.
Early on, as an example, when Moustache Girl is kicking her vengeance into gear, she turns Mafia Town into a lava-covered hellhole. The moment you arrive, instead of attacking you, the Mafiosi beg you to help them save their beloved town and their lives from the outpour of magma.
The only problem I have with the story is how weak the ending is. The entire story works on the concepts of intent and the consequences of one’s actions, with Moustache Girl becoming something of an agent of vengeance. But then the finale pulls a Saturday morning cartoon moment of restoring everything and reviving everyone who died, completely negating any development brought by the plot.
In terms of gameplay, as I said before, it’s very similar to Super Mario Galaxy, where from your hub you pick a scenario in a world and go through it to recover a timepiece. These often involve complicated platforming sections, some degree of exploration and fighting mooks. Very few of them have actual boss fights. When you do have boss encounters, they’re creative yet lacking in challenge.
Hats are where Hat Kid gets her powers and name from. You craft your hats by collecting balls of yarn of different types, each tied to a specific hat but also adding to your yarn total, meaning that once you create a hat, you can use the excess yarn of one type to create another. And hats are a blast, sometimes literally so, giving you fun abilities, from pointing towards your current objective to creating Molotov cocktails. Finding yarn is your main motivation behind exploring each of the levels.
Much like Super Mario Galaxy’s shooting stars or comets passing through the galaxies, A Hat in Time gives you time rifts, which appear on the different worlds. What I love about them is that when selecting a rift, you only get a photo of where it is in the world, leaving it up to you to explore and find them. Some are very easy to find while others will have you looking in every corner of the map. Once you “collect” them though, the rifts will warp you to a different place, usually a harder and very fun platforming challenge, with a new timepiece waiting at the end.
A Hat in Time looks beautiful, from the colourful star ship to the many worlds you explore. Mafia Town is a coastal Italian town, with pools, ponds and the open seas. The recording studio is full of glitz and glamour and dark shadows with lots of security guards, scanners and alarms. The Dark woods are exactly that, straight out of a nightmare, with dark flames, deep shadows and demos stalking the dark.
Each world is instantly recognisable and memorable and the same can be said of our protagonist. Hat Kid is incredibly expressive and between her wide-eyed interactions and grins, she kinda reminded me of Toon Link from The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Though having said that, her personality comes through the most on the level specific artwork you see during loading screens. These are amazing!
Something that surprised me was how much voice acting there is in A Hat in Time. I’d go so far as to say it’s almost entirely fully performed. Voice acting is pretty damn good, with Moustache Girl being the best of them. Music is fantastic, ranging from your adventuring themes to whimsical light-hearted tunes that perfectly match the lovable protagonist.
I keep comparing A Hat in Time to Super Mario Galaxy and it’s not just because they’re the same style of game, but because I believe it can stand shoulder to shoulder, on its own merit, with Mario’s adventures in space. It’s a wonderful adventure with a great character and the best game for me to end the year with.
5/5 – Hell Yes!t.