Although it goes against all my senses as a reviewer, I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to hate A Hat In Time.
I don’t care if your father was murdered by a particularly ruthless fedora on your 8th birthday or a shifty beret broke into your flat one night and made off with your flat-screen TV, everything about this adorable independent platformer makes it irrefutably lovable.
The world explodes with vibrant colours, the characters are overtly charming, and its platforming gameplay beautifully parallels the fluid, responsive and, most importantly, hugely fun 3D classics of yesteryear. It’s a title that manages to wear its influences on its sleeve while remaining a personality-driven delight with surprises at every turn, while its ability to incorporate solid moment-to-moment gameplay, an adorable world full of cute characters and a wry sense of cheeky humour make it one of the best 3D platformers of the last few years.
Yet, unlike other titles in the genre, what makes A Hat In Time so phenomenal is that it never delivers the same experience twice. Sure, the core of Hat Kid’s adventure is solid platforming, tasking you with jumping between platforms, unlocking abilities to reach new areas and collecting the scattered hourglasses that act as an alternative to stars in the Mario series. However, the game uses these solid mechanics in such a variety of ways that it’s easy to forget just how basic that moment to moment gameplay should be.
One minute you’re engaging in some intense boss fights, the next the game has shifted to an all-out survival horror game (like Outlast if it was wrapped in Candy Floss and sprinkled in glitter), then, all of a sudden, the game’s a murder mystery where you’re racing against the clock to catch the killer. Its four worlds have such a distinct flavour and set of gameplay mechanics that it’s often easy to forget that you’re playing the exact same title, the game doing so much with its ostensibly simple set of controls and systems.
It even reflects its influences outside of missions, putting you in a large hub area that gradually unlocks as you collect hourglasses. It makes for a natural way to progress through the game, not tasking you with following a linear set of missions but allowing you to jump between worlds on a whim. In turn, it makes for a game that never gets stale, allowing you to change the gameplay drastically whenever you want, the nine-hour runtime becoming a breeze that, if anything, flies by too fast. Managing to sustain interest in a platformer is a challenging task, and it’s one that A Hat In Time passes with flying colours.
On top of all that, while its story is nothing to write home about, its world is, the colourful cast and amazing locales having that larger than life charm that makes the best platformers shine. Whether you’re travelling through a train occupied by detective birds asking for your uncle’s sister’s maiden name or meeting a ghost that is obsessed with forcing passers-by to sign soul-binding contracts, every character you meet is immediately endearing. It has that feeling of roaming the likes of The Wind Waker or Super Mario Sunshine, where the beautiful animation mixed with the delightful characters makes for a world you want to explore for hours on end.
If that doesn’t tell you how much I’d recommend A Hat In Time, I don’t know what will. It’s a phenomenal little game that fans of franchises such as Banjo Kazooie and the 3D Mario titles will no doubt take to immediately, its tight controls instantly feeling reminiscent of what made those games so outstanding. However, the Switch port of A Hat In Time is, sadly, the worst way to experience the game.
Visually, this is a significant downgrade from the title that released on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and PC, its world full of poorly rendered textures, severe cases of late pop-in and a whole host of other rough edges. Worse than that, at the time of writing, it’s also something of a buggy mess. The game is plagued by constant freezes, massive frame drops and, on rare occasions, some crashes.
The freezes in particular become an infuriating part of gameplay, occurring anytime you use a special ability, switch a hat, or encounter an enemy that throws more than one attack every five seconds. The final mission of the game – which happens to be the game’s most intense boss encounter by far – was an utter nightmare due to the bugs on the Switch, the tight control needed to manoeuvre between attacks completely ruined by the game’s consistent stuttering.
Even in docked mode the game still looks and runs as efficiently as a delicious ice cream that’s been sat outside in 30-degree heat for four hours. If you’re only looking to pick the game up for the novelty of playing the game on handheld, then picking up the Switch copy isn’t the end of the world. However, if you truly want to experience A Hat In Time firing on all cylinders, then the PC or other console ports are definitely the best way to go.
This is a fantastic game though, with or without the Switch’s technical limitations, and if your only route to A Hat In Time is through this rough port then it’s still worth your time. The platforming is solid, the world is fun and the gameplay never ceases to get dull despite its tried and tested arsenal of systems. If you want a game to fill that Super Mario Odyssey shaped hole in your heart, this is undeniably it.
Game: A Hat in Time
Platform: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Mac, PC
Publisher: Gears for Breakfast
Developer: Humble Bundle
Release Date: 18 October, 2019