Wednesday
Jan102018

QCF: A Hat in Time

012 gave us the year of the bow, then 2015 became the year of the sequel, and while it 2017 has been a significantly memorable year for video games as a whole, there’s no denying that it will also go down as the year that hosted the return of the 3D Platformer.

Granted, while there’s been a lot of praise for the throwback titles that have dropped so far, the craze has also seen its fair share of criticism, generating a lot of commentary on whether or not the genre even deserved such a renaissance in the first place.

Of all the games in the conversation though, one KickStarted-project stuck out as the dark horse of the topic; Gears for Breakfast’s A Hat in Time. While most games like Polykid Games’ Poi or Playtonic’s Yooka-Laylee were heavily promoted as spiritual successors to the iconic gems that best defined the collection-driven gameplay, the folks behind A Hat in Time were more concerned with creating an adventure where the journey itself is as, if not more rewarding than the destination. The Humble-Bundle published title establishes early that it’s 3D Platforming gameplay relegates the collectibles or objectives into being more of an accessory than a direct extension.

As novel as these ambitions were on paper however, A Hat in Time fails to step with its best foot forward at the early going, and barely manages to stick its landing, taking far too long to pick up any sort of real momentum in what’s ultimately, a clumsy outing.

As the stage unfolds, we see the silent hero, Hat Kid, journeying out in the emptiness in space, only to discover that the little corner of whatever solar system she stumbled upon wasn’t as empty as she had thought. An ambiguous foreign caricature of a man stops the Ms. Kid in her tracks and informs her that she has run afoul of the Mafia, leading to a scuffle that causes her to lose most of the precious fuel from her ship. As you may have guessed, these aptly named Time Pieces are the prime collectible object that you have to hunt down in A Hat in Time.

The presentation when it’s at its best, strikes a careful balance between cheeky, as the players will encounter a number of eccentric personalities that will deliver some bits of charming dialogue, all within a colorful setting that’s loaded with tons of visual gags to delight upon. However, these moments are all buried under a pile of mediocre puns, and voice performances that’re more grating than they are enjoyable, and even a bit crude at times.

Not to say that the world in A Hat Time should be limited by the aesthetic it presents any means, it’s just a bit jarring whenever surrealism of its setting turns towards this adulterated direction that clashes with the game’s initial whimsy more than it compliments it. For every little moment where the game successfully manages to juxtapose the adorable design Hat Kid or Mustache Girl against the game’s weird cast of strange looking monsters in business suits and ghoulish imps, it will quickly regress its characterization three steps backwards with lowbrow comedy that’s comprised of half-assed stereotypes, and out of place entendre.

Gameplay wise, A Hat in Time does succeed in one area that most games of its kind don’t, and that’s its scale of flexibility.

As the namesake would suggest, Hat Kid will cycle through dozens of hats in order to conquer many puzzles and obstacles you’ll face in the game’s expansive levels. Each hat, (including the default top hat) will have a specific power that you can use anytime you’re wearing it. These powers range anywhere from an incredibly fast sprinting speed, to a hat that gives you access to projectile explosives, or even a hat that reveals hidden areas or platforms that you can only access when the head topper is equipped.

In addition to the hats, are badges that you can have equipped that will also grant the kid a specific perk or power that she didn’t have before, and some of the badges can even enhance the powers of a certain hat when used. This kind of approach is novel as it not only encourages experimentation with the different powers that Hat Kid will have at her disposal, but it keeps players on their toes with the limited number of combinations that you deploy between hats and badges at any given time.

While discovering these different pairings can be fun at times, the sensation is more often than not cut down by unintuitive level design and cryptic puzzles that you’ll slog through within the first half of the game.

The biggest flaw with the stages is that they’re constructed with these massive sub-sections that’re dedicated to a certain gameplay style like intense platforming, or stealth-heavy traversal without any sort of proper build-up prior to pace out the cadence of the level.

Nearly every area within the worlds of A Hat in Time offers little, to no rhythm to player exploration, and navigation is an even bigger nightmare once you’ve seen most of what the stage has to offer. There are discernable landmarks in the stage to go by sure, but the filler pathways between them are practically devoid of any of the key distinctive visuals that properly chart your position on the map, often forcing me to rely on a waypoint to find anything. The levels from landmark 3D platformers like Banjo Kazooie and Mario 64 are memorable not for their environment or gimmickry, but for how homogenous they were for players to navigate and familiarize with whenever you were playing through them—I never got that feeling with A Hat in Time, no matter how much I spent at any given level.

Giving the player some fun tools to play with is important in a 3D platformer, but making sure that they have an enjoyable playground to use tools in is far more important, and I just feel the ball was dropped pretty hard in that department.

In an attempt to slap a fresh coat of paint on an all-too familiar-formula, A Hat in Time, unfortunately, loses the plot, and instead succumbs to its inconsistency between its mechanics and level design, producing only a few memorable moments within what is ultimately a disjointed hot mess of a game.

In a year where Super Mario Odyssey, Yooka-Laylee, Poi, and even Super Lucky’s Tale has been released, your time and energy are better spent on these alternatives, and any of the other I may have forgotten to mention because the sheer amount of wasted potential in A Hat in Time is just downright depressing.

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