This year we had the release of Yooka-Laylee, a successfully backed Kickstarter campaign which included many of the original developers from Rare (Banjo Kazooie). This game promised a return for old-school 3D platformers with a modern twist; however, it only received a lukewarm reception. I personally felt that it’s main intention to bring back the golden era style of 3D platforming along with the early 2000’s charm fell flat as the game felt dated upon release. However, we have a new contender for this throne; different abilities based on hats, a hub area which leads to themed mini-worlds, multiple goals in each ‘world’ to receive a common item, boss battles, very cute aesthetic and collectable coins. That’s right, I’m talking about Mari…… wait a minute, and you’re a girl!? Well then, I must be talking about A Hat in Time by Gears for Breakfast, which was also a successfully backed Kickstarter campaign!
Our protagonist, a nameless traveller who is referred to as Hat Girl, is currently on a journey through the stars aboard an hourgalss powered spacecraft. Suddenly, she receives an unsolicited visit by one of our first enemies, the Mafia. They let themselves aboard and sabotage her ship which causes all of her precious hourglasses to fall down to the planet below. Armed initially with only your rather dapper top hat; you must run, jump and smack enemies on the head in order to find these essential fuel items along with a few other collectables and maybe a friend or perhaps a rival?!
This is the premise set up at the beginning of the game; however, as you traverse through various locations ranging from a busy, bustling town to a creepy forest which houses a haunted mansion, you uncover new side stories which build upon the initial story. Can you recover all of your hourglasses before a certain Moustache Girl? Can you collect all of the balls of wool and fashion all of the available hats? Will you collect enough gems to buy all of the badges and expand your arsenal of abilities? I can’t answer those questions, but I can say that if you play this game then you will have a blast trying to do so!
Whilst playing A Hat in Time, I was getting déjà vu of playing Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine many years ago. As I touched on above, the hub area is your ship which has links to various locations down on the planet your hourglasses have landed on. You start off with access to one area, Mafia Town, which gives you progressively unlocking missions which each reward you with an hourglass upon completion. Once you have collect 4, 7, 14 and 25 hourglasses you can unlock new areas which each have their own style, objectives and enemies.
Shortly after starting the game you will obtain your main weapon, the umbrella. Its reach may not be the best but it sure packs a punch! Armed with this and the many hats which you create out of balls of wool that you find in each of the environments, you can combine many different abilities to overcome your enemies and the situations you are in. Abilities come in two formats; first of all, you will generally gain an ability with a new hat, such as turning into an ice statute and stomping the ground or the ability to run faster. Secondly, you can buy badges off a strange badge seller which offer new mechanics such as the auto-deployment of your umbrella if you are falling, a grappling hook or a collectable magnet.
Even though the main emphasis in the game is on collecting your hourglasses, I actually found it more compelling to try and collect all of the balls of wool and coins hidden on the stages. The wool offers the ability to create new hats for our protagonist and the coins allow us to play a fruit machine mini-game which gives you various bonuses such as changing the colour of your clothes or a new visual style for each hat.
When I first started playing the game I got lost very easily! The first level takes a while to get your bearings and get used to where you are and where you need to go. The ‘quest locator’ hat simply shows you where your objective is in direct correlation to where you are which isn’t always helpful if you have a load of buildings between the both of you. That being said, once you spend a few hours working your way through the levels, you get used to the layout and can quickly traverse later one.
The level design is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of quality and gameplay. First, we have Mafia City which is clearly a nod to Mario Sunshine’s Delfino Plaza with all of its inhabitants, buildings, hidden items and flowing waterways. I’ve seen mixed reviews for this level as some people love it and some hate it. Personally, I thought it was a great level but the biggest flaw was the small variety of enemies and it was very easy to get lost. Plus, like a Metroidvania style game, you can’t go everywhere until you create certain hats and return later on.
The second location we move onto is a film set with two opposing directors trying to shoot movies, which you must participate within. This was my favourite level style as each mission varies a lot from breaking into a filming studio to solving a murder mystery in a remake of a very famous story (in name at least). Thirdly we have a spooky forest with a haunted mansion which has tonnes of character and atmosphere and even Alien Isolation/Outlast style hide mechanics when being chased in the haunted house.
Finally, we have the level that everyone, apart from myself, seems to love! It has no missions, no goals and no objectives when you first enter it, just ‘freeplay’. The objective is still the same, to find the hourglass. However, this one doesn’t make it clear what your objective is until you find the hourglass – this is a bit similar to how Mario 64 used to work with it’s ? missions which would be titled once you discovered them. Imagine Bioshock Infinite, travelling from one floating island to another via your zip wires – cross that with Mario 64 and you get this level. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great level in terms of design as you activate horns to unlock new travel-ways, climb high mountains and solve puzzles in order to climb to the top of a clock tower. It just felt a little too open for me – but I seem to be the minority on this.
The music is delightful and the voice acting is perfect! Moustache Girl sounds sassy and tomboyish, the Mafia sound stupid and the Ghost in the haunted forest was a perfect choice. Personally, in some levels the music to me sounded like a Zelda game, it had that sense of adventure yet fun. I have absolutely no complaints in this area (on a side note, I’m actually listening to the music whilst writing this review!).
First 3 missions (22mins):
A Hat in Time is a witty, colourful game with tonnes of variety. It’s one of the best 3D platformers I’ve played in quite a while and succeeded where Playtonics Yooka Laylee didn’t. The game has taken everything we loved about the games from the golden era of 3D platforming and updated it to modern standards without being locked in the past. I highly recommend this game to everyone as it was such a delight to play!
**Code provided by developer**
A Hat in Time£23.99
- Delightful music and voice acting that fits perfectly
- Varied levels, each with their own theme, enemies and mini-story to tell
- Rock solid controls for a modern old-school 3D platformer
- Imaginative level design
- Lots of collectables to keep you busy for many hours
- The camera can get a bit iffy in small, enclosed areas
- You must collect hourglasses to progress through the levels, this may stunt progress if you get stuck
- The compass/find goal mechanic is a bit vague