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A Hat In Time (2017)

A Hat In Time is a 3D platformer created by Gears for Breakfast, an independent game development team. As a passion project of the director, Jonas Kaerlev, concept of the game was pitched on Kickstarter as a return of the classic Nintendo 64 style platforming game play. It did not take very long for the game to not only meet its intial goal but far surpass it. Eventually reaching a total of $296,000. The game began development in 2012, eventually seeing an official steam release in October 2017. Due to reaching its stretch goals, the game has continued to expand with DLC content, Seal the Deal, and an official patch for gamers to create mods for the game.

I remember a time, back when I was first getting into playing video games, where playing to the end and overcoming the game's many challenges didn't really appeal to me. It was something I learned to enjoy sure, but at the beginning I just wanted to run around in the shoes of another character in another world that I had never seen before. It is partially this reason that I fell in love with 3D platformers and the freedom they offered. Spending hours hopping through paintings in Mario 64 or new transformations in Banjo and Kazooie, every new sight and sound seemed like magic. Something I couldn't find anywhere else.

Though I only discovered A Hat In Time after it had already been released, thanks to a recommendation of a good friend of mine, I understand why this game has such a huge following. Not only for reaching well beyond its marked goal as a Kickstarter project (which is a feat in and of itself) but successfully delivering on it's promise by fixing and addressing flaws that normally plauge the platforming genre (bad camera, timing mistakes, etc).

But is that enough to make it stand toe to toe with long time veterans like Mario?

Let's take a look.

How does the gameplay tell the story?

Much like the collectathon platformerss it looks to emulate, A Hat in Time's story is built around the idea of collecting certain items (in this case, Time Pieces) with new objectives tailored to each stage. These “Acts” can vary a great deal but are all set in a specific semi-open world locations defined as Chapters. These chapters have characters that are unique to that setting, with their own story or conditions for you to win back the time pieces that have fallen in their lap. Whether it's helping two bird directors shoot a movie to win an award, or completing contracts of a shadowy specter, there is enough characterization and out there moments that give each chapter a unique flavor to them. As Hat Kid, the player is free to explore the locations for pieces of "yarn" which can be knitted into new hats that offer new abilities when worn or "Pons" which can be used as currency to by extended upgrades for all of the different hats.

Or you can just run around, explore, talk to characters, beat up the Mafia of Cooks. It's all fair game.

It is this variety, I believe, that makes A Hat In Time such a special game. It doesn't confine itself to one type of experience even though the controls and goals mostly remain the same. It plays on a certain nostalgia that classic games like Banjo and Kazooie where it almost seemed like anything could happen.

Wanna stop a crime syndicate with nothing but a parasol umbrella? Of course!

Want to solve a who done it murder mystery on a train? Why not?

Do you like getting scared and sneaking around an old mansion while a ghastly figure stalks you?

...Well some gamers may not be terribly fond of that last one but for those of you who are, your in luck!

That being said, this game can be deceptive in it's simplicity. Some if not all collectathon platformers will suffer from “missions for the sake of missions” syndrome, where you can tell an extra level or gimmick in order to pad out the game. While I won't say A Hat in Time is completely free from this, it is certainly less noticeable. Chapters such as “Dead Bird Studio” and “Subcon Forest" are well paced and each "mission" feels like it telling a part of the stand alone story. Even the Time Rifts (side levels used to collect more Time Pieces) were a welcome bit of fun to a already fun experience. Some even have the added bonus of adding a few kernels of lore to the setting and characters of the chapter. Add the increased difficulty of the final boss fights and you have an experience that is a bit bulkier than it's cute cover art would imply.

Speaking of which...

What makes the animation unique?

The biggest recurring compliment this game has received since release, is from it's art style and animation and rightfully so. Character designs, unique act title cards, and even Hat Kid's idle animation of making two toys kiss each other is specifically designed to be both charming and endearing. Hat Kid in particular gets most of her characterization through her facial expressions and actions as opposed to her words (of which she gets very few).

 Part of the reason this protagonist appeals to me, is how unabashedly childish she is. She is weird, silly, a bit selfish but also friendly, shy and forgiving. It reminded me of how much I was drawn to Lilo (from Disney's Lilo and Stitch) and how her acting reflected my own childhood experience in small ways. Even character's like the Conductor (an owl with a passion for Western films) who only just barely resembles his species still has enough unique attributes that once you see his design, you won't be forgetting it anytime soon (or mistaking it for something else).

Though the animations in this game are not perfect, I believe they succeed in capturing the nostalgia factor from the games it was made to reflect. Balancing both the witty writing and game play animations so it is easier to enjoy the game for what it is. A fun romp set in a world/universe reflective of a Saturday morning cartoon where you couldn't wait to watch the next episode.

What are the game's flaws/problems?

While I stand by that the variety this game displays is one of its major strengths, it can also be one of it's biggest drawbacks. Gamers looking for a more linear experience will not find it in A Hat In Time, as both the chapters and acts are constantly shifting. Not to mention that the game is relatively short, with only four acts before the final level. This does allow for more time spent on collecting the remaining time pieces but for those who are platforming experts, this short game may leave you wanting more/ Fortunately, the DLC content adds new levels and new challenges for people looking for more than the original release.

Final Verdict

Though I initially looked into A Hat in Time out of my nostalgia for the games such as, Mario 64 or Psychonauts, it wasn't what kept me playing all the way to the end. It has its fair share of flaws, but at the same time has more than enough wit and charm that it continues to entertain even after completing the final act. In my mind, Gears for Breakfast have created a game that is more than capable of not only standing with but apart from the games that inspired it. With fun and inventive level design that I haven't seen in a larger release in a long time. If you are at all a fan of the genre, I highly recommend you play this game when you find the opportunity to do so.

FORMATSSteam, Playstation 4, Xbox One
FROM Gears for Breakfast