A Hat In Time Review

By Rebecca Smith,
When a new 3D platformer claims to be inspired by classics such as Banjo Kazooie and Super Mario Sunshine, you would be forgiven for having a few misgivings, especially when the genre hasn't done terribly well this year. To be fair to developer Gears for Breakfast, their debut title A Hat in Time largely smashes any of those misconceptions by delivering a charming and fun platformer that's only let down by some minor technical issues.


The mysterious Hat Kid is travelling home in her spaceship, although she still has five light-years left to travel. Right now, she's positioned miles above a strange planet and she has a visitor. A passing Mafioso is demanding she pays a toll to Mafia Town to be allowed to continue her journey. After a bit of pushing and shoving, the Mafioso breaks the window of the spaceship, creating a vacuum that pulls him, Hat Kid and the 40 time pieces that power her ship to the planet's surface. If she's to ever make it home, she needs to find those time pieces and bring them back to her ship.

As soon as you reach Mafia Town, it's obvious why the team claimed influence from Super Mario Sunshine. The large open town is full of colours that shine brightly in the sun, hidden places to explore and interesting characters that always have something to say. At heart the game is a 3D platformer and as a tutorial type level, the town is a perfect place to practice your moves when there are different obstacles to overcome without any real dangers to cause you harm. All of the Mafia Town levels take place in this single environment and it's extremely easy to become distracted before reaching your objective, especially with all of the collectibles that are also spread around the town.

There are many collectibles that serve different purposes. The red sphere-like collectibles, known as pons, will restore life — you get four mistakes before you die. The rest are used to gain new powers and upgrades. There are several types of yarn, each of which will knit a different hat that will give Hat Kid a new power, like the ability to sprint or to temporarily reveal platforms from an alternative spirit dimension. You'll likely be confused as to why some areas are initially inaccessible in some levels and it will be because you haven't got the hat that you need. There are more than enough balls of yarn to knit all of the hats without collecting every single ball, so while some of these are hidden in challenging locations, they hats are not impossible to create for most players.

There are many collectibles up that treeThere are many collectibles up that tree

Meanwhile, the green pons are the in-game currency that allow you to buy badges from vendors, unlock new levels or even some areas of the ship. Up to three badges can be worn at once and they unlock other abilities, like a hookshot or a reduced cooldown time for the hat powers. Some of these badges are useless, while others are required for certain levels or even for achievements. Both types of pons regenerate when a player returns to the spaceship and then reloads the level. Even through natural play, you'll end up with far more pons than you'll ever need to unlock everything.

At the end of each level is a time piece that is instantly returned to the spaceship. The more you collect, the more areas of the ship are unlocked and, in turn, more areas of the planet become available for exploration. Each of these areas is dramatically different to those that have gone before, from the spirit-infested swampy Subcon Wood to the varying movie sets of Dead Bird Studio. Like other famous platformers with different zones, the areas don't seem to have any connection to each other but this doesn't detract from the experience. Instead, the diversity stops the game from becoming boring and same-y, with players not knowing what they'll face next.

Like Hat Kid, the game itself seems to wear many hats and even the levels can have quite diverse objectives, to the point where objectives can vary within the same part of the world. At Dead Bird Studio, you have to stealthily sneak through a crime scene (inspired by Agatha Christie's Murder On The Orient Express nonetheless) while gathering evidence to accuse the murderer. Another level sees you race against time through a disintegrating train to defuse a bomb, and a third is a test of survival with you leading a marching band along a series of rooftops without them knocking you off to your death in the crowd below. While a couple of the game's later levels still serve as a hub to be explored, the majority are more streamlined. As such, they're far more memorable, especially when they pick a specific theme, and the game is all the better for this.

The calm before a sprint to defuse a bombThe calm before a sprint to defuse a bomb

The characters that players will meet are just as varied as the levels and the hats, none more so than the many bosses that players will encounter on their quest. There's a surprisingly agile possessed toilet, a despicable but incredibly persuasive spirit who is dead set on possessing your soul, and a murder of private eye crows with a knack for asking personal questions, to name but a few. They're all voiced brilliantly, even if their scripts verge on being cliched and the roles just sound utterly ridiculous. The only disappointing character is Mustache Girl, who is criminally underused. She's set up to be Hat Kid's arch-enemy at the beginning of the game but is instead relegated to a couple of cameo appearances and a major part in the final level. As the game's initial artwork showed off a male character that now doesn't appear in the game at all, it makes you wonder whether the pair were supposed to play a much bigger part that was eventually swapped out.

In order to find all 40 time pieces, you need to do more than just complete all of the game's main levels. As players progress through an area, they'll unlock blue time rift levels. These strip out all of the other distractions and go back to basics for a pure platforming experience that will really test your skills. They're easily the hardest levels in the game and there's a real sense of satisfaction when some of these are bested. Also hidden throughout the main levels are relics that have to be reassembled on the ship to unlock pink time rift levels. These levels are dreamscape environments where players need to collect enough orbs to unlock the gate to the next level. While easier than the blue time rifts, running out of health means that players have to restart the entire rift, rather than from a checkpoint.

It's a good job, then, that the platforming itself is responsive on the whole. There were some issues with wall running where Hat Kid failed to grip the surface in front of her, but on the whole the platforming is a real test of players' abilities. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for the game's camera, which had a tendency to behave poorly at the worst possible time. It clipped through objects to obscure the view, provided unhelpful angles, and frequently zoomed in to Hat Kid's head during jumps, making the landing point impossible to see. It would even bounce off ceilings and walls making it unable to zoom properly and shake continuously. Camera settings can be adjusted in the game's menu, but this rarely helped. Many deaths and mistakes could be attributed solely to the unfriendly camera, including during some of the difficult time rifts. You can see some of the issues below:


The game's difficulty increases gradually at a rate that will be comfortable for most players, with the exception of a couple of levels in the second area that seemed to be the most difficult levels in the game. One of these was a time rift involving the previously mentioned marching band. With a need to keep moving in a level that is already quite difficult, many deaths were caused by the collisions with the band members. Never did I think I would wish harm on a marching band, but it turns out there's a first time for everything.

Finally, the game's achievements are a combination of normal progression, completing levels in a certain way and performing other optional actions. For the completion, you'll be required to get all of the time pieces therefore completing all of the time rift levels as well as the main levels. You'll need to complete optional activities on the ship, like finding Hat Kid's secret hideout, as well as optional activities in some of the game's other hubs, such as sliding down a long slide. The most challenging achievements involve completing levels in a specific way, like completing The Big Parade without once falling into the audience, but all are possible with patience and practice. The ability to immediately restart a level without returning to the game hub is sorely missed but, loading times aside, this isn't a difficult or long completion.

Summary

A Hat In Time is a game that is proud to wear its influences on its sleeve and largely does them justice. The 3D platformer features a quirky story, diverse and memorable levels, interesting well-voiced characters, and collectibles that actually have a point. The platforming is responsive and the difficulty scales appropriately on the whole, but the game is let down by camera issues — clipping through objects, zooming in at inappropriate times, and shaking all contribute to unfair deaths for the player, often at the worst possible moment. There's something here for players of all abilities and most will be able to look past its faults for another enjoyable completion.
3.5 / 5
A Hat in Time
Positives
  • Diverse and memorable levels
  • Interesting well-voiced characters
  • Responsive platforming for players of all abilities
Negatives
  • Camera issues
  • No restart level option
Ethics
The reviewer spent 27 hours forming an affinity for time pieces and a strong dislike for a certain camera during a fun romp through the world of A Hat In Time. She earned all of the game's 27 achievements in the process. An Xbox One copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Rebecca Smith
Written by Rebecca Smith
Rebecca is the Newshound Manager at TrueGaming Network. She has been contributing articles since 2010, especially those that involve intimidatingly long lists. When not writing news, she works in an independent game shop so that she can spend all day talking about games too. She'll occasionally go outside.