A Hat in Time – Review (PS4)

Initial Release Date: 6th December 2017

A Hat in Time is an absolutely brilliant, fun, and beautiful game that will captivate you from the start. While it may look like a cutesy game for kids there are plenty of more grown-up, and even morbid in some places, jokes and references that will appeal to older players as well. It’s clear that when they say it was inspired by platformers from the N64 they really mean it, and have designed the game to appeal to the nostalgia in gamers who enjoyed them.

When Gears For Breakfast first decided to create an indie 3D platformer and fund it through Kickstarter, there’s no way they could have known how massively popular it would become. Blowing its initial funding goal of $30,000 out of the water by almost 1000%, they partnered up with Humble Bundle as distributor and created a terrific modern-day homage to early 3D platformers. Not to be confused with another recent title about hats, A Hat in Time follows the adorable Hat Girl as she tries to recover the lost Time Pieces that fuel her spaceship.

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The player is thrown right in at the deep end after hurtling to the planet below and landing (on her feet!) in Mafia Town. At this point most gamers would likely expect some sort of short tutorial or control guide to get them started, but sadly this is not the case. Despite enemies that can damage you being present within the first minute of the game, you may not realise that yes, you can indeed kill them already. However, this isn’t a huge issue as you do get four life points and health replenishment Pons are abundant. The lack of a tutorial or guide is a minor irritation at worst, as long as you remember to check the functions of any new hats or badges you get right away! And if you don’t realise until much later on that you can destroy those shiny barrels and crates wrapped in hazard tape… well… it’s not a huge loss.

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All that being said, it’s easy to forget your troubles when you take in the spectacular scenery of each level. All the levels in the game are beautifully designed, and it’s clear that attention was put into every minute detail. Whether it’s paw prints on a rock in the distance or shadowy waving hands in the swamp, Gears for Breakfast went all out. It’s only unfortunate there doesn’t seem to be a ‘look’ function outside of moving the right stick, or you could spend a great deal of time simply gazing around. It’s probably for the best, really. Tying into that is the character designs, which are also fantastic. Each Chapter has superbly unique characters that fit their level’s aesthetic perfectly, and what’s more is they’re all fully voice acted. This is a really nice touch that adds so much depth, and which larger developers with considerably more money and resources have been slacking on lately. It simply wouldn’t be the same if you couldn’t hear Mustache Girl’s obnoxious voice as she goes on and on, and the Mafia would just be boring layabouts. The shopkeeper has a particularly wonderful design, with a glitchy look that they explain away by having been to some places that ‘left a mark’.

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One of the things that makes A Hat in Time so unique is the way they have incorporated a multitude of different styles into one game. The levels are split into Chapters, which are the ‘world’ you are in, and then each Chapter has a number of Acts. Some of these are just part of the main free-roaming world, while others are a specific, linear path from Point A to Point B. This eclectic mix could have ended up making the game feel cobbled together, but it actually works perfectly for the style of game they have created. Going from filming a high-speed train chase with a cast of owls to a survival horror death-house keeps you guessing and wondering what exactly you will come up against in the next Act. It’s not only a pleasant blend of different play styles, though, as the music is excellently composed to perfectly complement each level. Pascal Michael Stiefel debuts his work alongside guest compositions by Grant Kirkhope (Banjo-Kazooie, Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle) to create tracks that you could easily listen to all day. Many elicit memories of other games, too, with Mafia Town being particularly reminiscent of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. 

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The PC release of A Hat in Time was generally well-received, but unfortunately some players struggled with crashing issues and bugs that caused extreme problems when trying to play. Fortunately these have been completely ironed out for the PS4 release. However, one thing that could be vastly improved is the automatic camera. Unless you want to keep the camera practically on top of Hat Girl, you will find many occasions where it clips into the scenery and you are completely blind, simply hoping you are able to find a place you can see again before something comes along and kills you. It is not intuitive at all and often turns levels that would otherwise be pleasantly challenging into frustrating, repetitive grinds as you die over and over again because the camera can’t make up its mind where to be. This can somewhat be remedied by turning off the auto camera, but this presents a whole new set of problems. Since you’re now having to control both Hat Girl and the camera you will find yourself trying to jump, move the camera, use powers, keep an eye on enemies, and so on all at the same time. This is extremely frustrating, especially when your controller simply can’t keep up with all the different buttons you’re trying to press at once and decides the one it’ll ignore is the one that drops you off the edge of a cliff. It’s not a deal-breaker by any means, but definitely something to be aware of.

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One of the most interesting parts of A Hat in Time is the boss battles. Each Chapter has at least one final boss, with some also including a mini boss about halfway through the Acts. Don’t assume you will be working by the rule of three though! These bosses are tough, and take a lot of hits to beat. Sometimes there will be a lot going on that you need to keep track of on top of focussing on hitting the boss, so be sure to choose your hat and badges carefully before you begin. Of course, if you really want a challenge, or are a trophy collector, you can buy the badge that drops your health down to one hit and take on the boss that way! Naturally, some bosses are more challenging than others and despite the steep learning curve of the game they’re not really terribly frustrating. Since there aren’t any lives in A Hat in Time you can die as many times as you like without consequence and the bosses are a lot of fun. Most have fairly similar dynamics so once you’ve worked out the pattern and where you need to run, jump, or stand at any given moment it’s easy to see the similarities.

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A Hat in Time is an absolutely brilliant, fun, and beautiful game that will captivate you from the start. While it may look like a cutesy game for kids there are plenty of more grown-up, and even morbid in some places, jokes and references that will appeal to older players as well. It’s clear that when they say it was inspired by platformers from the N64 they really mean it, and have designed the game to appeal to the nostalgia in gamers who enjoyed them. That isn’t to say it won’t also appeal to everyone else though, and it’s definitely a must-have for anyone who enjoys platforming games. While there are a few drawbacks, the overall story and design of the game vastly outweigh those few niggling hiccups, and is a fantastic first project for Gears for Breakfast. Here’s hoping their next project is just as enjoyable.

Verdict – 8 out of 10

Written by: Ehryn Strong

When asked to choose my favourite game, my only reply is "LOOK! A THREE HEADED MONKEY!" before I flee to avoid the question. Marvel aficionado, collector of ball-jointed dolls (which are just as creepy as you might expect), and living proof that you don't need to be single or old to be a crazy cat person!

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