Someone once said to me that the key to happiness is to wear a different hat every day. I’ve never tried this, but now I might get the chance with a game that’s all about hats and the magical special powers each one gives you. But is the gaming experience like an elegant and proud top hat, or a dirty old bobble hat sold in a charity shop for five pence? Only time will tell…
Straight from the first loading screen A Hat in Time shouts fun at you in a colourful and brilliant way. It’s an old style platformer much like Spyro, Mario and all those ‘90s platformers the world has loved. It’s also something really new and refreshing at the same time, that hopefully brings a smile to the face of a whole new generation of platform lovers.
A Hat in Time puts you under the hat of Hat Girl, a small child who heads out on her spaceship travelling home across the universe. In this ship you have all the modern bits and bobs that you would expect from a universe negotiating safe haven – but there is also a kid’s bedroom with a ball playpen! Suddenly a mafia stereotype appears at the front window and knocks on the glass demanding a toll for travelling near their Mafia planet. Hat Girl refuses this demand and so the grunt smashes the window and sends the forty magical hourglasses that power the ship across the universe to every distant corner.
It is therefore up to you to visit the different planets and get the hourglasses back, and to do this you have to action quests, defeat bosses and complete challenges. The worlds you visit range from the Mafia run planet of hired thugs – one that is full of casinos and cafes – to a horror world of cartoon nightmares. The more hourglasses you collect, the more worlds and levels you open up.
When you first enter a level, everything comes across as your standard platform fare, with jump, double jump and attack options all present. You can hit enemies with weapons like an umbrella, or jump on their heads to destroy them. You collect orbs, special relics and then of course there is… yarn. With the yarn you can make some very special hats and this is when the game begins to differ from most other platformers.
Each hat you collect or make gives you a special ability, and you are able to swap instantly between them all at a touch of a button. One might give you an extra boost in a jump, whilst another will point you in the direction of the next challenge. More still will enable you to throw magical grenades. There are many variations and the possibilities seem rather endless.
The actual worlds that you’ll find yourself travelling through are also very inventive, as are the quests you have to partake in. One such quest may well have you sneaking through a house of horror trying not to be caught by its ghostly owner, just as another has you trying to solve a crime, while starring in your own film. A Hat in Time has some lovely strokes of genius and innovation that I don’t want to spoil here – but I think it will have Nintendo feeling very jealous indeed.
Gameplay wise and everything works well enough, apart from some annoying camera angles that can really get on your nerves. There are also some horrible boss battles, that were just far too repetitive and annoying for their own good, leaving me with an inclination to throw my controller across the room. Maybe that’s my own hatred of boss battles coming to the fore and clouding my judgement, more than the game itself though. As for the open world feel to things, and well, some will hate it and long for a more linear progression system, whilst their friends might just love everything about it. There are plenty of secrets to go back and find after you finish the main story if you need to get that completion fix.
A Hat in Time is full of charm in the visual department as well, with some brilliant gags and delightful worlds to explore to the max. Little touches are placed here and there that you might miss the first time around, which really delights, excites and should be enough to warrant a second playthrough at least. The palette is full of colour, fun and cartoon glory, whilst the main character comes with a lovely design, as do her allies, but you can also add visual features to the character and change the design as part of the gameplay. That in itself is a nice touch. The soundtrack is a mixture of fun, drama and some of the scariest orchestral music, in one terrifying section, that I’ve ever heard.
Overall and it has to be said that A Hat in Time is a top piece of work from a developer who embraces all that is great about an old style 3D platformer and then makes it their own with innovative and insightful fresh ideas. There aren’t many games of this genre around, but there is a big revival coming and this is another rare game that is fit for all the family. There are some gameplay issues, but it’s a very fine title indeed.
Now excuse me as I’m off to buy myself a nice hat and brighten up my week.