It would be easy to write A Hat in Time off as a Mario clone early on, and I was fully prepared to not be impressed. That barrier was quickly broken down by an adorable space-faring girl in a hat. Hat Girl, in her ever pressing quest to collect the 40 lost hourglasses that power her ship, quickly managed to further delight and charm me. Each new level, ability, and scenario provided something fresh and unique, and if there’s anything that really ignites my passion in a game, it’s the ability for it to surprise me. It’s not without a few problems, notably those that often cropped up in platformers of the 64-bit era, but A Hat in Time’s charming nature is more than enough to put a lid on any issues that might be seen as problematic.
Though most people might want to compare A Hat in Time to Nintendo platformers, I found more similarities with games on other consoles, such as Spyro the Dragon, Sly Cooper, Jak and Daxter, and Psychonauts—though to be fair, I’m a dedicated PlayStation gamer through and through, so there’s little surprise there—proof that great platforming collection titles aren’t exclusively Nintendo’s. Hat Girl, on a journey through space in her strange spaceship, is headed for home when a mafia boss from a nearby planet comes crashing through a window and sends Hat Girl’s hourglasses raining down onto the surface of this strange world. In order to get home, Hat Girl needs to collect all 40 of them, so she heads down to the surface of the planet after them.
It’s not long before Hat Girl meets Mustache Girl, a girl who looks like Little Red Riding Hood sporting a dazzling blonde mustache. She’s attempting to take down the local mafia, and through a strange turn of events, becomes the game’s antagonist. It’s a fleeting moment, before Hat Girl is sent off to other curious places to find her hourglasses, like an all-bird movie studio where two directors are embroiled in a heated contest to make the better movie, and a haunted forest, where the leading spook loves to rope all the new visitors into strange contracts. It’s all set to a delightful soundtrack. It was easy to make note of each new song punctuated each scenario.
A Hat in Time eschews any kind of formulaic nature. Each subsequent level is another twist in a bizarre but captivating adventure. Any lesser platformer might be the same level after level, content with repetition. Instead, one might result in a parody on Metal Gear Solid, filled with stealth platforming while avoiding a train full of birds trying to solve a murder, all in sepia tones. Another is an open-world floating island, complete with ziplines that send Hat Girl cruising around to the various challenges and hourglasses scattered around it. And of course, no game would be complete without a boss battle against a possessed outhouse.
That’s just the kind of incredibly silly and varied moment-to-moment gameplay that A Hat in Time has up its sleeve, or in its hat. It starts at a diving board into a pool of pillows, and it only gets crazier from there. That’s what makes A Hat in Time so endearing, but also why it fails to enter the pantheon of classic platformers. At times, it just feels bizarre without purpose—a patchwork quilt of charmingly disjointed experiences that never quite gain cohesion. The final encounter does try to draw them all together through some narrative tying of loose ends, but A Hat in Time is not the type of platformer that will be remembered for its larger story. Fortunately it’s those crazy moments that set it up as something special.
The game is initially a little hard to get into. Lack of abilities and an overwhelming, cluttered environment lend to a tough sell. A Hat in Time does a bad job at communicating that you will eventually get additional abilities and where to go next. It’s a massive bump that plagues the early hours of the game, but overcoming it reveals a delightful adventure that is much easier to understand. New abilities are gained by getting yarn to make new hats and badges that can be pinned to those hats, opening up platforming possibilities in each area. It was always exciting to get something new, like the grappling hook badge, and see where it could be used. As frustrating as the limited ability move about each stage was in the beginning, it was equally as exciting to come back and be able to traverse everywhere.
Just because a game is bright and cheery doesn’t mean it’s for children. A Hat in Time is a pretty tough platformer at times, and will require a deft amount of skill to get all 40 hourglasses, not to mention the platinum trophy. A lot of the latter half of the game relies on learning to double jump, dash forward, and dash cancel. Once I got the hang of it, traversing around the strange places that Hat Girl dropped her hourglasses was a delight. There are a couple of curse word-inducing frustrating moments, but the bright charm always managed to drag me back in. In fact, I couldn’t stop playing A Hat in Time until I had the platinum trophy for myself. It was the right balance of challenge and charm.
A couple of mechanical quirks do darken an otherwise bright experience. The camera can only swing side to side, or zoom in and out. There’s no ability to pan up and down, which is a pretty glaring flaw in a platforming game that often has collectibles and platforms above the player. Often times, figuring out where to go was frustrating simply because I couldn’t direct the camera to see my path. There are also no brightness settings in the game. It might not seem like a big deal, but I’d rather not change the brightness on my TV for a single game after I have it carefully calibrated. Some areas in A Hat in Time are quite dark, and it was hard to see platforms that I needed to jump to or holes in the ground that swallowed Hat Girl before she could reach her goal.
A Hat in Time is a highly polished throwback that brings classic 64-bit platforming gameplay into the modern era. There are a couple of mechanical oddities, and the opening hours of the game could do a better job at telegraphing where to go or when new abilities are required, though by the time my Platinum trophy popped, I was enamored. Hat Girl may not go down in history as an iconic character, and the story is nonsensical, but often it’s this very bizarre nature that lends this cap much of its credence. A Hat in Time is delightfully charming and always manages to take a left turn, surprising and challenging even a storied gamer like myself.
A Hat in Time review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on Standard PS4. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.