I’ve brought this up before, but I’m a fairly young guy. Between being born in the dying breaths of the 90s and having no one around to get me into gaming early, my first console was the Wii when I was around seven, and it wasn’t until even later that I got out of “casual” gaming. Because of this, I was well into my teenage years when i first picked up games like Banjo-Kazooie or Super Mario Sunshine, the very games that inspired today’s gem: A Hat in Time. I’m sure some of you older folk fondly remember the platforming collect-a-thon genre, but I have no such nostalgia. However, that didn’t stop me from enjoying the hell out of the adventures of Hat Kid.
Our heroine today is the mostly-silent Hat Kid, a spacefaring adventurer who travels in a spaceship powered by
macguffins time pieces. Already, you might be able to figure out where the title came from. In the opening cutscene, the time pieces in the spaceship’s vault end up scattered around the world, and you need to find them in order to get home. The time pieces are scattered across four different worlds, each of which are charmingly unique.
World one is “Mafia Town”, an island populated mainly by eccentric criminals. Already, you’ll be getting a sense of what kind of game this is. Here you team up with Mustache Girl, a girl with a mustache and a desire to drive out the Mafia. After some drama with her, you move onto world two, “Battle of the Birds”, where a penguin and a crow competing to make the best movie draft you as their new leads. The rest of the world consists of scoring points for each director, and by level six whichever director has more points wins. After a final level that isn’t suspicious in the slightest and totally won’t be important later, you move onto world three.
World three, “Subcon Forest”, is the game’s “spooky” world, with an affably evil demon as the villain. He steals your soul and forces you to sign contracts that become the next chapters in the world. Soon enough you’ll get your soul back and move onto world four, “Alpine Skyline”, where you’re dropped into free roam mode, able to find all the time pieces in one go.
After getting enough time pieces, the final boss fight opens up, but you’re by no means finished. In each world you can find time rifts, which lead you to one of two types of levels. Some of them are platforming challenges, and others are more collection based. In these, you collect photographs that show the backstory of worlds or characters. You can avoid most of these and still get to the finale, so it’s a fun little bonus for exploring a bit more.
Now, we’ve got an awesome concept, but does it play well?
Gameplay here is your standard fare. Look around and move with the mouse or analog stick, move with WASD or the other analog stick, designated attack button, etc. Gears for Breakfast didn’t deviate from the standard formula, fortunately, as nothing ruins a good game like an avant-garde control scheme. You can walk around as slowly as you need, but between wall-climbs, double jumps, and dashes, you can also zoom around the levels if that’s more your speed. Hat Kid is light, but not floaty, perfect for the platforming challenges she faces. With all the movement options allowed, most platforming segments will let you cautiously hop across each platform or skip a good chunk of them if you’re up for the risk.
At this point, you may be asking “Why is Hat Kid called Hat Kid?”. Well, she wears a hat for one, but the hat is more than meets the eye. Each hat has a special ability. Your main hat directs you towards your goal, and later on you’ll unlock hats that let you sprint, throw projectiles, and even stop time. Each hat takes more and more yarn to collect, yarn being a collectible hidden throughout the worlds, which keeps some levels locked until you have enough yarn to get the right hat. On top of that, the hats add an extra level of puzzle to the levels, and while they’re never especially difficult, it’s a pleasant mechanic that gives meaning to Hat Kid’s signature look.
My main problem is with depth perception, it was a bit harder than I’d have liked to gauge distance, and it was infuriating to over- or undershoot a seemingly easy jump just because I couldn’t tell how far away it was. This also applies to some collectibles, more often than not I’d jump to get a collectible, only to turn the camera and notice it was a few feet away. This is a fairly minor complaint though, for the most part I was running and dashing through the levels without a care in the world
Oh god, the presentation. The soundtrack went on my playlist immediately after hearing the first few songs. Not all of them are great, but a majority of them are incredible, and fit their in-game situations perfectly. The soundtrack, however, threatens to be upstaged by the visuals. Unfortunately, the compressed screenshots here can’t do it justice, but the game looks gorgeous, and I was playing on high-performance mode. The game is bright, colorful, and before all else, adorable.
A Hat in Time describes itself as a “cute as heck” platformer, and damn, they deliver on that. Even the mooks and bosses are adorable, the snatcher especially. Of course, no one can compete with Hat Kid, who’s specifically designed to be the humanoid equivalent of a puppy. I described her as “mostly silent” earlier, as she never has any text boxes, but the few voice acted lines she has only serve to make her cuter. Between outfit customization and her journal she keeps hidden in her room, Hat Kid will be topping cutest character lists for years to come.
The voice acting is also great, injecting as much personality into the characters as possible. I’m not touching the JonTron controversy with a fifty foot pole, so I’ll just give a special shout out to my personal favorites: the Snatcher, the Conductor, Hat Kid, and Mustache girl.
Between an overload of adorable, fun platforming, puzzles, a near-perfect challenge on the bosses, and a final battle that reminded me of the Asriel fight from Undertale, my complaints are few and far between. Between this and Yooka-Laylee, hopefully we’ll see a resurgence in the long-lost genre, as well as more games to come from Gears for Breakfast.