A Hat in Time is one of those rare games that will be remembered forever by those lucky enough to experience it with young eyes and curious imaginations. I'm referring to children literally, and this is a game that should appeal to anyone who has kiddos of their own, but I'm also referring to the young at heart. A Hat in Time succeeds as a beautifully crafted love letter to the 3D platformers that made most of us fall in love with gaming long ago, while remaining wholly its own. It's a gift, and one worth sharing.
Players will be delighted to meet Hat Kid, an adorable and adventurous space explorer who wants nothing more than to get home. One day as Hat Kid's ship is passing over a stretch of space claimed by the mafia, a broad-shouldered thug attempts to break into her ship to claim some dues. The resulting vacuum breach sends Hat Kid and, more critically, the time pieces that fuel her ship, hurdling to the planet below. It's up to Hat Kid to collect her fuel and continue her homeward journey!
The story in A Hat in Time is quite secondary, and serves the same purpose as the bun on a hamburger. It's not really what you're there for, but it keeps the whole thing together. The characters and gameplay are the central delights here, and delightful they are.
Developer Gears for Breakfast has been extremely transparent about the fact that the entire team's approach has been informed directly by 3D Mario games like Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario 64. Nintendo's 3D platformers are renowned for their tight controls and infamous for their finicky cameras, and A Hat in Time shares mostly the same achievements and shortcomings -- which I mean to be a profound compliment, mind.
Hat Kid responds precisely to the tilt and flick of your thumbs, and is just heavy enough while jumping. The base model Hat Kid can run, wall scramble, wall jump, and perform a mid-air dive, and of course you can upgrade your Hat Kid with all kinds of unique (and stylish) hats! Scattered throughout the four worlds you'll explore are multiple balls of yarn which you can use to make new hats and masks, and these will grant you special powers which enhance your mobility and platforming prowess.
There are many badges to purchase and collect as well, and these grant you further powers and quality-of-life enhancements. While the story is semi-linear, the worlds you visit in A Hat in Time are large and open, and you'll be returning to them frequently as you find new hats and badges which empower you to reach places, or uncover secrets, that used to be beyond your reach. There are hidden items and secrets everywhere, and as you continue to discover new stages in new worlds, familiar areas are consistently made new again as Hat Kid's wardrobe evolves. So cute! So capable!
Every freaking square inch of A Hat in Time's colorful world is packed with adorable details. I didn't even make it a full minute into the game before smiling. After Hat Kid got out of her bed and I was given control to explore her room for the first time, I saw a huge mountain of brightly colored pillows. Pink ones, green ones, yellow ones, red ones! "Can I jump into those?" I wondered immediately. And of course I could. I leapt into the pile and sent a few colorful pillows shooting into the air like confetti. The pillow mountain was hugged on both sides by a giant double-sided slide, so of course I had to run up and down both sides, and of course I had to run to the very top and jump back into the pillow pile again!
There is beauty and playfulness crammed into every corner of this game. I spent a few minutes in that room goofing off, and the hallway outside leading to the main control room was a long dark tube with streaming lights and dark carpet splattered with florescent purple and blue splashes like the gnarliest arcade from the 90s. Outside the windows I could see countless stars and misty, gaseous stretches of galaxy.
There are adorable, bluesy penguins that occupy a movie studio lobby in the second world that quietly snap their little fins like they're in West Side Story. The third world will introduce you to giant, smiling ghouls and fire spirits as you weave through twisted trees, graveyards, and glowing caves. A mountainous world will have you platforming above the clouds as colorful prayer-flags flap in the wind and rainbow aurora ribbons stretch peacefully overhead.
These are the types of things that stick with you; the little things. A Hat in Time is playful and fun, and it would have succeeded without these lovely bells and whistles, but they're here for you to enjoy. I hope that many of you will get lost in this game like I did and find real joy in it. I hope you'll feel at home as you bring your ship back to life and explore its nooks with Grant Kirkhope's charming home theme ringing through its halls. Everything's alright here; everything's cute. There's a grand adventure to be had, and a hilarious cast of characters for you to meet.
A Hat in Time was borne from a place of love, and inspired by Nintendo's best. I find it touchingly fitting that as we look forward to Mario's most ambitious outing yet, Gears for Breakfast has surprised us all by offering one of the most competent and charming 3D platformers ever made. We all need more color, beauty, fun, and innocence as part of our collective experience right now. Indulge in the cuteness, and share it with your loved ones.
WWG's Score: 4.5 / 5