There is a reason that, aside from the Mario games, 3D platformers do not tend to be successful. Platforming in three dimensions will never be precise enough for a game to create a platforming challenge that isn’t frustrating in all of the wrong ways. The most successful 3D platformers seem to be ones that combine humor and a light tone with the mechanics, such as Psychonauts and the aforementioned Mario games. While A Hat in Time does not fix any of the problems of the 3D platformer genre, the tone, humor, and level design elevate the game to one that is worth playing at a minimum.
The best parts of A Hat in Time are the story and tone of the game. When a mafioso breaks the window of a young girl’s spaceship, she must travel to a variety of different planets to gather fuel for her ship. As a plot device for making the player collect items on various worlds, the fuel collection works. The individual worlds each contain their own plots and focus, from fighting the mafia in the first level to shooting a movie in the second.
The tone of A Hat in Time is just as light and adorable as it sounds. Though the humor can sometimes get a little dark when it focuses on killing, kidnapping, and contractual obligations, the game always keeps an upbeat attitude and a light touch. Its the enjoyable lightness of the game that makes it worth coming back to.
The gameplay of A Hat in Time will be nothing new to players of the old school 3D platformers. There is the standard formula of jumps, double jumps, and dashes to propel the character along the four sprawling levels. The game is rarely hard, but can become frustrating when dealing with the 3D platforming. The controls are not extremely tight, so it can be easy to barely miss a platform because you’re facing the wrong way. These problems are exacerbated by the camera which suffers from many of the problems of the Mario-age 3D platformers.
The moment to moment gameplay seems to shift depending on the level you’re on. While the first level is a standard open map with enemies to fight, the second level is almost entirely stealth based. The change in structure keeps the gameplay interesting, but also ensures that the gameplay rarely evolves from its base state. Combat never evolves from swinging your umbrella to kill an enemy and there is rarely a change in how the platforming is performed.
The level theming and level designs also stand out as both expansive and wonderfully unique. Gone are the standard Fire Level, Ice Level, Sand Level, and Boss Airship. A Hat in Time goes from Mafia Town to Bird Movie Studio to Horror Forest and so on. Each level feels fully formed around its theme and can be wonderfully enjoyable to explore, adding extra enjoyment to the completion of main missions and secret missions, along with hunting down the fair amount of collectibles,
Added to the mix of platforming gameplay are a variety of hats that can be used for different situations. Yarn is scattered throughout the levels and can be used to construct different hats that give the main character different abilities. While the finding and crafting of hats can be an enjoyable experience, the hats themselves never feel like more than a key to get past certain roadblocks in the levels. For instance, there is an ice hat which allows you to warp across the map from specified ice platforms to their counterpart ice platforms. While the design and animation of the hat is nice, the only purpose it serves is to open up shortcuts or other areas in the level.
Given the hype and stellar reviews I had seen for A Hat in Time, I had honestly expected more out of the game. Yet for all the fun of the tone of the game, I found myself getting bored too quickly by repetitive platforming, uninteresting upgrades, and frustrating stealth sections. All in all, I would recommend A Hat in Time for fans of the 3D platforming genre, but not with the raving excitement I’ve seen from others.
A Hat in Time
- Funny and lighthearted
- Sprawling unique levels
- Variability in gameplay
- Platforming can be frustrating in three dimensions
- Hats don't add much variation to gameplay aside from unlocking gated content
- Relatively short