Developer, Gears for Breakfast, has brought the lovechild A Hat In Time to consoles after over five years of development and surpassing a Kickstarter goal by tenfold. Director Jonas Kaerlev saw a depletion of 3D platformers in the gaming market, and wished to revive the Nintendo 64 magic with a modern whimsical journey which did not devolve into a collect-athon. The result is a jovial game packed with meta moments and sneaky dark spells.
Hat Kid is your mute surrogate that has a knack for befriending even the slimiest of foes. You meet her in the middle of an intergalactic voyage with no clear destination. Her craft has no crew members. She is a lone soul content with the large empty spaces. The computers and super calculators are her most prized cargo, and her vague knowledge of earthling objects hint at her alien origins. A boisterous knock lands on the observation window from the knuckles of a Mafia man, and chaos ensues.
After a brief tussle, the man breaks the spaceship’s airlock and a multitude of glistening hourglasses get sucked out of the ship’s core engine. Hat Kid watches with a pale face as these Time Pieces plummet to the worlds below her. The big clean up facilitates the world-hopping that dishes out the game’s fragmented narrative. Each world represents a Chapter, but they are more or less contained stories autonomous from one another. Each world has unique vehicles to dole out plot, giving every Chapter a new style of critical path. You could become stuck in a contract with an evil spirit that dishes out quests disguised as legal amendments.
Another clever storytelling element pops up when you stumble into a world where feuding film production companies are ran by an owl and penguin. The film parodies ooze from the playful level design, and every NPC’s dialogue has potential to bust your gut. Borrowing from that Happy Tree Friends sensibility of cute subversion, A Hat In Time strikes in the most unsuspecting places. Nihilistic owls drab about their corporate servitude, and cackling sprites boast of their arson desires. A ghoul princess even has devastating diary entries of how her murderous tendencies grew from a place of love and devotion.
Hat Kid derives her power from her hats, thus the namesake. Along her travels, balls of yarn can be found, used to knit new toppers on the sojourner. The abilities of each hat adds flavor to how you tackle challenges. The Ice Hat provides a ground pound that can activate special springboards. A Brewing Hat arms you with explosives. Sadly, the Time Stop Hat will come to your arsenal late, and once it does arrive the effects are disappointing considering the title would suggest it to be the cornerstone game mechanic. Time merely slows and only in five second intervals, unlike what the rather uninventive name would suggest.
The platforming does not contribute any inventions to the genre’s toolbox. The jump inputs are significantly paired down, only offering a double jump, dive, and (stubborn) wall jump. A single combat input rounds out the controls, reducing enemies to tedious obstacles. Generous collision assists bring the game to a very casual level, but the nerfed mobility holds you back from executing any ambitious strats. Scaling ladders and sprinting has great velocity matched with brilliant pattering sound design. The level design appears open at first, but the environments quickly lose freshness once they have been thoroughly mined. The recyclable nature of the game’s environments does, however, create a homecoming sensation whenever you revisit a world with new abilities and skill.
The little backtracking that is present does not dull the gameplay experience, and the completionist will be satiated without feeling overwhelmed. Some brutal frame drops hit at pivotal moments in level finales, which cannot be timed worse. Luckily the boss battles reset upon death with an abbreviated scale. If you make it deep into the battle and meet your demise, then the first several cycles will shrink putting you back to your progress with a manageable migraine.
The playful art direction succeeds in subtle ways. Mafia Town exudes the egotism of its inhabitants through ambitious architecture and elitist advertisement. The central hub of the space station paints Hat Kid’s curiosity with makeshift museums and hyperbolized gadgetry. When inhabitants spill over into neighboring worlds, an uncanny moment usually transpires. When the game chooses to flip the switch to disturbing, the score and the screen’s filter shift to impressive depths. Achievement based sounds ferment your satisfaction creating a potato chip addiction that will have your scouring for every diamond.
The total amount of content falls fairly short for the worlds that have been crafted. Level duration varies sporadically, with some missions only having a minute’s worth of gameplay. For a game that labels itself literarily, the scenes building the narrative jut in and out of one another without any narrative thread. A Hat In Time will have you jumping into paintings like its ancestor, and give you a healthy dose of class commentary and existential babble. A weird sibling to the red cap man, Hat Kid will hold you over until a Joy-Con lands in your hands.