The 3D platforming genre is one that can be difficult for an indie studio to create and when the attempt is made, it’s difficult to say how it will turn out. A Hat in Time is one of those attempts that features a small top hat-wearing girl who has lost her source of fuel (Time Pieces) and must now venture to retrieve them all whilst making many frenemies along the way.
A Hat in Time clearly takes inspiration from the Nintendo 64 3D platforming era. Each Act takes a similar approach to that of Super Mario 64 where the world alters with each act and you are given a clear objective. After you complete that objective, you are taken out of the world and need to re-enter. This works well for variety, but it makes your experience feel disjointed as opposed to a more open-ended sandbox approach. At the end of the day, it will come down to personal preference, but with the recent love for open world games in the past decade, players may feel somewhat taken aback.
Controlling Hat Kid feels smooth and intuitive, especially once you grow accustomed to the game’s physics. There were a few moments where I felt that I wasn’t in complete control and there’s an aerial move that feels awkward to pull off, but Hat Kid overall controls fluently (especially for a 3D platformer). There are admittedly some frame rate dips during more demanding moments where some more TLC could have gone a long way and surprisingly, this is more noticeable in docked mode. Lastly, I also experienced the occassional glitch where I was stuck in walls and unable to move, forcing me to return to the hub and start the mission again.
The camera control is generally well done, with appropriate distances from Hat Kid and ease of control. I did however find it difficult to look upward where it would only work if I manually used the top hat and peered around at an awkward angle. My overall experience wasn’t hindered for the most part, but it did make confined vertical areas difficult to plan for.
Scattered around each world are balls of Yarn that allow you to customise your look with new headwear, providing you with new abilities to choose from. These hat varieties are essential as they are required to perform certain manoeuvres in order to progress. You can also buy badges with the general currency collectible that pin onto your hat, providing various upgrades and abilities. I never felt that I was struggling to meet the requirements of making these hats and badges as there are resources in abundance everywhere you look. Whether this makes the game too easy is a decision left up to the individual, but the process was certainly simplified for someone who grew up with and adored 3D collectathons.
I cannot speak for all versions of A Hat in Time but for the Nintendo Switch port, I experienced some significantly long load times. Whilst it is by no means a deal-breaker, long load times can really hurt the game’s flow, especially since you’re pulled out after every Time Piece you collect. In fact, keeping load times to a minimum was actually a key reason as to why Nintendo continued to use cartridges with the Nintendo 64 – fun fact!
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A Hat in Time features rumble, but not much HD Rumble per se. Considering that this game has released on PC and other consoles in the past, it is understandable if the code for standard rumble is already in place. That, and as long as the controller vibrates when striking enemies or making significant manoeuvres, the game still feels intuitive.
Each act has a unique level design that differs depending on the objective. Many of the worlds have a great sense of verticality, but they each provide variety that avoids repetition. You may find yourself zipping around a city with a big tower in the middle in one world and then running through a long train in the next. Full marks for creativity!
The hub world is quite standard with nothing groundbreaking or out of the ordinary implemented. Don’t get me wrong, it fits the bill and serves its purpose (it beats simply choosing levels from a menu screen), but that’s what it is in the end – serviceable.
A Hat in Time features lighthearted characters and enthusiastic voice acting. Some scenes put a big smile on my face and the random humour that A Hat in Time likes to bring up here and there will go over well with players of all ages. There’s a lighthearted take on all levels, but there are also moments that takes that jolliness and puts a black humoured spin on it, allowing A Hat in Time to create its own blend of flavour.
Graphics / Art Direction
Despite the Switch version taking a noticeable graphical downgrade, A Hat in Time feels right at home on the hybrid. The drawback distance is impressive for the graphical quality of the port, but the use of dropping the fidelity and frame rate of models that are far away to assist in the game’s performance is impressive. At the end of the day, that’s what this port has set out to do: performance over graphics. That being said, you will notice the downgrade more in docked mode on a big screen, which is a shame regardless.
The colourful aesthetic fits the 3D platformer genre to a point where it’s simply commonplace. However, some games that take on the 3D platforming genre can often go too far into this typical approach to the point where they become generic and lifeless. A Hat in Time does not suffer from this and does a fantastic job at creating its own unique brand. I’m not sure whether it’s the mafia goons running on meat, solving a murder on the Owl Express or throwing paintings on a bonfire to appease fox spirits, but the game’s character provides an adventure that stands out amongst the crowd.
Music / Sound Design
A Hat in Time’s soundtrack is very reminiscent of what you’d expect of a Nintendo 64 era 3D platformer. It’s happy and jolly, with memorable lightheartedness to bring nostalgia flooding back to anyone who grew up in the 90s.
Character sound effects are also pleasant without becoming annoying and all of the dialogue is surprisingly voice acted. The voice acting can be hit and miss, but some characters’ voices are incredible, providing believable characterisation.
Final Score: 80%
Charming, whimsical and creative; these are the three words that I’d use to describe A Hat in Time. For a genre that tends to rely on past designs, I was initially concerned that A Hat in Time wouldn’t do much to break the mould and whilst it has its moments that seem familiar and nostalgic, the game does a great job to create its own unique flavour. It’s certainly a front-runner for one of the best modern 3D platformers out today.
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