Played on Windows
Also available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, macOS
I launched my Steam Curator site in January 2018 and wanted to get some new games to curate. I ended up picking up Sonic Mania, Hollow Knight and A Hat in Time. Honestly, that is a really solid pack of games and I ended up recommending all three games. Back then since my reviews were on Steam I only could write 8,000 characters and only give a positive recommendation or a negative recommendation. Things were easier. Now Humble Monthly Bundle August 2018 has arrived and brought A Hat In Time in its collection, so it’s time to do a proper review of that game, as well as my first “Re-review”.
Just to be clear a Re-review is going to be posed as an all-new review rewritten from the ground up. It is brought up to the new standards of my reviews, that includes a video review, as well as a longer and more in-depth review, screenshots and the rest of my normal review process.
With that out of the way, we can dig into A Hat In Time itself, and honestly I’m very happy I get a chance to revisit A Hat in Time. It’s a game that deserves more attention and I’m glad more people are getting a chance to play it.
The first thing that hits me with A Hat in Time is that someone wanted to make an adorable game and succeeded. The Kickstarter was subtitled a “Cute-as-heck platformer”, and I think people got what they paid for. Almost every minute of A Hat in Time is lovingly crafted and the characters in the game are so well designed and developed that I loved to watch the cute “Hat Girl” and help her goals.
There are so many great little moments in this game for the character development. Whether it be a simple hop and skip that Hat Girl makes after landing from a jump, the fact her name is Hat Girl or the fact she never speaks and usually mimes something out in a detailed fashion, something about this game makes me want to like it and does it efficiently.
Even the music is upbeat and adorable. It flows with A Hat In Time and really makes every moment feel just a touch more magical and fills it with whimsy.
However, that charm is noticeable in everything and it’s mostly done through sugary cute means. The fact that it’s so apparently done through means that not everyone is going to react well to it. When it’s done right it’s an enjoyable experience, but it also can often feel like A Hat In Time is repeating “We’re adorable” over and over, and for me sometimes it can get too sickeningly sweet. I enjoy the game, but it’s really pushing that message.
The story of A Hat in Time is rather simple. The story starts with Hat Girl in the middle of a trip home in outer space. The trip is about halfway over when Hat Girl wakes up in the spaceship on a random day. Her ship is stopped by a “Mafia” that demands a toll, she refuses and through the mafia’s attack, her spaceship breaks and her 40 power units, in this case, hourglasses, are flung down to the worlds below.
The hourglasses are the typical MacGuffin for a 3D Platformer, the same as Moons in Odyssey, Shine Sprites in Mario Sunshine, and Stars in Super Mario 64. They are the object you are taught to chase after to earn progress for your adventure, and the hourglasses are a good choice.
The first world is based on the Mafia and there’s a number of different levels in that world, each one giving a little more style and story to the world. In Mafia world, you’ll start by getting your first hourglass and your weapon (an umbrella), but then will save a new friend on the second levels and later, turn off faucets spewing lava, and more.
The writing of the game is as good as the rest, though also has quite a bit of cuteness to it.
Each world has a different layout. The second world has two rival movie producers and you are supposed to take sides to help one or the other. The third world has a “spooky” story where you sign a contract with a specter, and the final world is about pure exploration. I want to discuss this a little later when we talk about these worlds’ gameplay but there’s a lot of diversity in these levels, probably too much.
The real problem I have with the story though is there’s not an overarching story for the entire game. There is a finale with a final boss, but it appears out of nowhere when you get 25 hourglasses. In most platformers, a villain appears somewhere in Act 1, usually on the first planet, and you always have a reason to chase after them. I’m willing to look at different styles, but A Hat in Time feels like a producer shouted “We have to have a villain” a couple of months before launch and so they produce one. There’s a good reason for the character motivation for the finale but much of it feels like it comes out of nowhere and could have been developed better.
So with that said about the story, let’s talk about the gameplay itself.
Every level in A Hat in Time starts with gorgeous artwork, there’s a beautiful opening image for every level, that helps evoke amazing thoughts. I love the artwork on these levels. It’s just another way the game can charm a player.
I love every one of these polaroids.
Each level has a goal and there’s a lot of variety in them. The main gameplay revolves around platforming and combat against certain enemies. The enemies depend on which world you are on, but those are the two types of major gameplay here. The platforming really allows you to explore the level and usually has a number of interesting locations to visit. This is the standard platformer you should expect with a 3D platformer, but the design is well done.
The world that you’re on can change a bit too. The Mafia levels go from a simple navigation puzzle so you can learn the game, to a boss level, and then the entire level switches from water to lava for another level. It’s a great mix of design and art to really show off the world.
There are also a number of hats in this game, which is where A Hat in Time and the main character (Hat Girl) get one of their nouns from. You start the game with a hat that shows you the target objective. From there you can earn more hats by getting yarn and stitching them together. Each hat gives Hat Girl a new power and she can swap them at will. After the original hat, you get hats that give you abilities such as sprinting, throwing explosives, and turning into an ice sculpture. It’s not a bad array of abilities and is a solid twist to the typical platformer.
At the same time, I mentioned a problem with the world’s story, it also exists in the gameplay of each world. None of the worlds have a consistency with each other. You have the Mafia level, the movie studio levels, the spooky woods, but each of these is a different concept. The levels design, story, and features of A Hat in Time feel different in each world.
Yes, I can see that someone would prefer a game that didn’t feel stale, but with less than 40 levels there shouldn’t have been enough time for that to happen, and you can avoid too much repetition without completely changing the game on each world. In reality, it feels like there were four different designers who were tasked to design their own platformer world. Then near the end of the product, they duct taped the four worlds together and found that they don’t feel like they mesh properly.
The thing is I DO like each of the four worlds, but I could also buy that all four worlds came from different games, there are even functional differences between them as well. The Mafia level, the first world, starts off and people start to appear on your ship, there are two visitors that show up. It’s a fun moment and something a little different. That’s the only time any visitors show up on your ship that I remember. The second world has a choose your own adventure style to it, you can either support one side or a second, it’s only done on that world. There’s an ability in the third world to tackle the story in any order you want. All of these are good ideas but they each feel like very unique experiences but those experiences don’t mesh properly together.
Even the ghost is cute in an odd way.
It may sound like this is a major problem, and honestly, I feel like it is a bit because in a normal platformer it feels like you’re always playing one game. A Hat in Time feels too jarring to do anything other than play a single world to completion. The only problem is the game won’t allow you to do that, and you will have to mix and match worlds as some levels require a piece or a hat that you need to get from another location.
There is also some oddness to the level design of the worlds as well. There’s a moment where you find three bells in the Mafia level. I stared at them for ten minutes before looking them up online and finding out they don’t serve a purpose, they are just a decoration, but they clearly were made for a reason. There are a few moments like this that feel like they were the start of something rather interesting and deep, and then removed or unable to be delivered on.
A similar piece happens on board the ship when you find a computer that can play a few minor games. It’s a moment where I really had a lot of fun but when I finished playing on the computer, I asked: “what was the point of that?” The answer is either “to get an achievement for swearing” or “None, it’s just fun.” It goes back to that internal consistency of A Hat in Time.
It’s also jarring because the level design and the gameplay are often freaking amazing. All the Mafia levels feel really consistent and tell a single story, the same is true of the other worlds. I love each story because it develops more than just a concept, but it also defines themes and styles and the finale of a world brings it all together. It’s just that story and conclusion finishes one world and they don’t really link to the main story or the finale well.
In addition, the controls in A Hat in Time are usually solid, but I do find I have some trouble with them, mostly with the aerial homing attack. It’s a critical attack in the game, and usually when it’s required I can pull it off with ease, but when I try to use it on an enemy that can get injured by it, there is about a fifty percent success rate, often times succeeding after I failed once or twice.
There are also mods available. These came just after I did my first review, and playing with them a little, I like the feeling that players can customize A Hat in Time to their liking but in practice, I don’t know if it’s the best experience. Weapon mods and color mods work, but I don’t know if they add much to the game. Kudos for the feature but it’s not something that heavily excited me to play with.
On the other hand, the level mods would be really cool, if they worked. I tried a couple of levels and none opened up quickly. Reading online it says you have to wait a long time, up to five minutes, I waited almost double that and the level didn’t open. I retried recently and it worked but took a good amount of time. Here’s the thing, I really enjoyed the official game, and while the modding support will entertain some, it normally doesn’t add much to my enjoyment of the game. I might add credit to a game for having mods, but the main game is reviewed on its own.
If it sounds like I’m complaining a bit, I suppose I am. The thing is I want A Hat in Time to be really great. I want it to shine because I love 3D Platformers, and there’s not many out there. There are very few for the PC in the first place so I’m excited to add more to my library. As a game, when A Hat in Time is good, it’s great but when it stumbles, it’s a bit rough and I remember those moments a bit more on my second playthrough even if it only happens sporadically. Still, Hat Girl is amazingly charming, and the game makes me want to see A Hat in Time succeed.
Go Hat Girl Go!
So let’s talk about one more thing, it’s the big elephant in the room. A lot of this game probably has people saying something like “This sounds a lot like Mario 64”, and the fact is that it’s not accidental. The Kickstarter for A Hat In Time promised, Banjo Kazooie, Legend of Zelda, and Mario 64 all in one. Well, I’m going to start by saying outside of the umbrella and the silent protagonist, I don’t see the connection to Legend of Zelda that much in this game, sadly. But I fully buy Banjo Kazooie and Mario 64 similarities with the game. It seems Gears for Breakfast really hopes for those comparisons, even hiring Grant Kirkhope (of Banjo fame) to do some of the music
At the same time, that comparison is probably not the best one for Gears for Breakfast. But if A Hat in Time is trying to draw out a cheeky comparison to Mario 64, alright, let me say my piece. Even though it had a flawed camera and some annoying controls, I have to say Mario 64 is a better game.
I hate doing that because the thing is A Hat in Time has some perfect contemporaries that illustrate how much it can grow, but rather than having a realistic goal, the developers wanted to challenge the big dog and released in the same year that saw a ton of platformers including Mario Odyssey. The fact is, I think Mario Odyssey is an imperfect game that I may discuss one day. Even so, comparatively Mario Odyssey is extremely polished, well designed and heavily produced and A Hat in Time is lacking that polish, and money.
I mentioned contemporaries, and the thing is I think A Hat in Time has amazing similarities to a set of really solid games. I’ll call them the PlayStation platformers. Sony produced some really interesting games for the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 but for this discussion, I want to bring up three franchises when Sony kept trying to go head to head with Nintendo. Those franchises are Crash Bandicoot, Ratchet and Clank, and Sly Cooper. I’m sure some readers will say “Those are great series”. Sure I agree with that, but all three series started on a weaker than average opener.
That’s not to say these games were bad when they started, but each one had some flaw that didn’t work as well as other games. Crash’s mechanic of running at the screen was a necessity that requires memorization, Ratchet and Clank’s first game has nowhere near the same level of humor as the rest of the series, and Sly Cooper’s first game is… rough. But all three of these games have an important distinction. Each of their sequels are not just good but fantastic, and really defined their developers and style of the series.
A Hat in Time has all the same qualities for a new series. They clearly have defined a character and a universe, and while A Hat In Time has all the promise in the world, it lacks a bit of design that can really move this game just from a great game to something truly special. The fact is I want to review this game on what it’ll become, but I’m forced to review it on the experience it provides.
So overall how is A Hat in Time? Well it is the first game in a series, and it’s a solid platformer the entire game through, but while this game oozes adorableness, some of the gameplay holds it back from true greatness. I award A Hat in Time
That’s a great score, and A Hat In Time is worthy of it. I so wanted to give this game a 4.5 and the fact is I was going to as I started to write this review. The more I wrote the more I remembered, and the fact is I just couldn’t find a way to give it that last half a point. I wanted to give it that score, but I don’t feel it deserves it. Yet. It’s fantastic and fun, but when (please let them get a sequel) a sequel comes out, I am expecting something really special the second time around to deliver on the small misses of the potential of this game. Until then, you will definitely enjoy this experience.
Final Thoughts. Billed as a “Cute-as-heck platformer” it delivers on that promise. It has great platforming, level design, and gameplay, but it doesn’t have a cohesive feeling to tackle the big dogs.
Stats 26.8 hours 29/31 achievements (missing mods achievements that don’t work for me currently)