A Hat in Time is a crowdfunded 3D platformer and spiritual successor to Super Mario 64, a fact that it does not try to hide whatsoever, and why should it since it does such a good job?
Levels are accessed from a small hub world, with each timepiece (this game’s core collectable item required to advance in the game) being selectable as an entry point. Just like in Mario 64, when specific timepieces are collected, new stages (or in this case chapters of each level) unlock that sometimes physically change the world the world around. That said, the option to go back to any timepiece and world layout is available.
One thing that irked me and will surely trigger some people’s OCD is that the chapters of each world do not always unlock in order. Perhaps thankfully, the story here isn’t very deep, and playing out of order never meant missing out on story bits or jumping ahead at all. Had the timepieces not been numbered, it wouldn’t have bothered me all.
A Hat in Time is a rather brief game, consisting of only four main worlds with 40 timepieces to collect total. I was able to 100 per cent the game in under eight hours, and while my time was well spent, I just wish it were a bit longer. The four worlds are vastly different. One is a circular island overrun by mafia chefs, another is a spooky forest with a sinister spirit and a haunted house section that plays like a modern horror game with the main character being forced to hide under or inside objects. So while short, there is a lot of variety to be found.
Controls in A Hat in Time are tight and responsive, which makes platforming a joy. There’s a double jump, a dive forward, and the ability to jump out of that dive; a combination of jumps I was forced to be very familiar with by the end game. Hat Kid, the main character, can also run up walls and clamber to grab ledges and pull herself up, which makes for many heart-pounding close calls.
As the title implies, hats play an important role here. Yarn balls are scattered throughout each level and represent one of the unlockable hats. Once a certain number of yarn balls are collected, a hat can be crafted and equipped via a quick selection wheel. Hat abilities range from running faster to tossing exploding potions or slowing down time. There are also a couple of abilities that can be bought from a mysterious in-game shopkeeper with the green pons found in each level. One of these abilities is a grappling hook that lets Hat Kid swing from specific points as if swinging on a vine. All of this combined makes for one of the best 3D platforming experiences I’ve had in years.
I don’t have many complaints about A Hat in Time. The music is fitting to each level from a range of genres, many of which are reminiscent of the Mario Bros. series. The graphics are cute and colourful, the voice acting is passable, and a lot of the characters are interesting and likeable. I’d have liked the story to be a bit more in-depth than it was, as it’s basically ‘Hat Kid meets the antagonist at the start of the game and then doesn’t see them again till the end.’
Also one of the characters is a girl with a moustache, appropriately named Mustache Girl. Why does she have a moustache? It is never explained or mentioned from what I played, and I have to wonder about the message the developers are sending by having a character this way. A major theme of the story is one of forgiveness, which could explain why the developers decided to leave in voicework from JonTron, who was notably removed from Yooka-Laylee earlier this year after his controversial comments dealing with race relations in America. While JonTron only has a handful of lines in the game, it still made me uncomfortable to encounter him and I think that bears mentioning in case others may feel the same way.
Story and controversial figures aside, I quite liked A Hat in Time. I’ve played all the big 3D platformers this year and aside from Super Mario Odyssey, this is the best one. The platforming is a joy and I found myself smiling and laughing at all the adorableness I experience from start to finish, I just wish there were more of that with less JonTron.