I’ve played an awful lot of platformers this year; some good, some bad, some exceptional and one or two surprises as well. I’ll let you figure out the games that fit into each category. When A Hat in Time made its way into my inbox, I had only minor knowledge of it, and when I heard that it was another homage to classic platformers, I grew worried. That really hasn’t worked out this year (hello there, Yooka-Laylee).
Luckily, A Hat in Time puts those fears to rest early on, as our little hat girl’s spaceship finds itself losing the timepieces that power it. As they fall to the planet below, scattering around Mafia Town (a town filled with mafia men, obviously) Hat Kid is forced to jump down to recover the fuel for her ship. There’s no explanation for any of this, but why would there be? Nobody ever explained why a plumber lives in a world where mushrooms wander freely, or why a weird, bald scientist constantly fights with a giant blue hedgehog, so why should anyone need to know why there’s a town full of angry Russian-sounding mafia men? The interaction between Hat Kid and the various mafia types is fun and daft, with plenty of humour and some really silly voice acting.
The first thing I noticed when entering Mafia Town for the first time, is how much it reminded me of Super Mario Sunshine on Gamecube. From the little intro for each chapter that highlights the objective of that level, to the design and general look of Mafia Town that reminded me of Delfino Plaza. The general gameplay is reminiscent of old 3D Mario games too, albeit without the same quality. That’s probably unfair though, what with Mario representing the pinnacle of platform gaming.
A Hat in Time does do platforming relatively well for the most part, though. The physics are tight and the controls simple, but it’s not all sunshine and mafia rainbows; there’s a weird lack of depth perception thanks to Hat Kid’s shadow not always displaying below her during jumps. This makes some of the trickier platforming sections needlessly frustrating at times. This isn’t helped by the poor camera, which likes to point in awkward directions at the worst times, though that can be half-sorted with a visit to the options menu. It’s not a magical fix, but it does make things slightly better.
I was very impressed by the variety on display, throughout the game’s five chapters. From the Delfino-like Mafia Town to the contractual shenanigans of Subcon Forest, every single area looks and feels different. Chapter two sees two rival birds making their own movies, with Hat Kid the star as you go through various scenes cooked up by the unhinged Scottish owl (that looks nothing like any owl I’ve seen) and the jive-talking disco penguin, as they both attempt to win a prize for best film. These levels include references to Metal Gear Solid, Murder on the Orient Express and many more, and you can’t help but smile. The crows alone will have you chuckling at the absurdity of it all.
The progression within the five chapters is a bit of a mess, however, as they’re split into several acts that culminate in a finale act. This sounds simple enough, but in order to unlock the finale of chapter two, I had to complete an act in a later chapter and come back. Another chapter just introduces a free roam mode out of nowhere, with very little direction within the chapter. The level design is impressive though, but a little more consistency with the progression system would have made it better.
What could not have been made better, is the soundtrack. Oh my. It’s just wonderful, totally capturing the feel of old school platformers. The music so catchy, to the point of finding myself humming its tunes at random points later in the day. It’s wonderful. Combined with the colourful visuals and character designs that reminded me of Spelunky’s art, especially with A Hat in Time’s themed loading screens (that are a little too long for my tastes), the game really is quite sweet to behold.
I went into A Hat in Time with mixed feelings, but expecting something quite special. It fills a niche that this generation’s non-Nintendo consoles just haven’t filled yet, and is the closest thing to Mario that they’re likely to see. Even if it doesn’t live up to that high quality. That said, Gears For Breakfast is onto something, and I look forward to seeing what the developer could do with a sequel.
Can be quite amusing
Good level variety
Too many long loading screens
Platforming can be awkward
Progression is a mess