A Hat in Time (Somewhat, Sort of) Review: Good Ideas, Much Frustration

Posted December 20, 2017 by Thomas James Juretus in Video Games

Developer: Gears for Breakfast

Publisher: Humble Bundle

Release dates: October 5, 2017 (Macintosh, PC), December 6, 2017 (PS4, Xbox One)

Available on: Macintosh, PC, PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One

Let me start this off by saying I love platformers. I’ve played a variety of them, from Crash Bandicoot to Cuphead. However, love of a genre doesn’t always translate into the skills needed to be successful in the genre, and that leads to many platformers started but few finished. So, perhaps I may not have been the best choice to review Gears for Breakfast’s cute looking platformer, A Hat in Time. Still, after watching a trailer, I figured I could give it a go. It looked cute, even kid friendly (possibly my speed then for a platformer), so this looked doable.

Unfortunately, not quite. But I did make progress, even as I fall short of the game’s conclusion while writing this.

Despite that, after spending close to a dozen hours in the game (most reviews have pegged the game as being able to be completed in around 11 hours), I still had a pretty good sense of things. At least enough to give a sort of review here. Thus, you will not find a score at the bottom like you do with other reviews. Nor is there a list of pros and cons, though I will hit on those. The later chapters may have introduced some new moves that may or may not have altered my current score of 6/10. That uncertainty has led me to leave the score off here, in fairness to the game. There are some games you can put a lot of time into, not finish, and still know all you need to know about the game and its gameplay (ELEX, I’m looking at you). But that may not be the case here.

The game’s plot is ridiculously simple. Hat Girl’s Timeship gets stopped above a planet by the Mafia, who break a window, sucking out the ship’s Time Fuel canisters and scattering them below. Hat Girl needs to voyage down to the surface, with the planet being broken up in chapters, which are then divided into acts. After the first chapter, subsequent ones are opened once you find a certain amount of Time Fuel. Each act rewards you with a canister, and you can return to previous chapters even as you open up new ones. As it so happens, you’ll have to back track, as moves you’ll need to complete an act may need to be found elsewhere.

You’ll also learn how to make new hats for Hat Girl, with each hat providing a special perk or ability. One hat lets you find your objective, another lets you sprint, and yet another allows you to break open certain crates and barrels. The hats are created by finding balls of yarn in the levels, though it can be frustrating to find yarn that you don’t need and already have plenty of. Getting the yarn balls isn’t always easy either, as some may be out of reach initially. This can mean more backtracking, revisiting areas you’ve already been through. It does encourage exploration, though.

Exploration could, and should be, a fun thing. After all, the world is colorful, with varied environments (a mafia town, a dark forest, a movie production house, etc). You have your typical moves to get around, and for many areas those work just fine. New abilities open up as you progress farther in, and those moves, such as a grapple hook, are necessary to traverse certain acts. When the controls work, they work well. But that’s not always the case, as they just don’t feel as tight as they should be. Controls can make or break a platformer, and imprecise controls lead to cheap deaths or repeatedly attempting things that should only take one try. That was frustration number one for me.

Frustration two became more pronounced once you meet the game’s primary antagonist, Mustache Girl. Mainly when she speaks. Yes, voice acting is mostly awful here, and the poorly written dialogue doesn’t help any. It’s even worse when you have to repeat sections and listen to this terrible audio assault multiple times. The music is better, and certainly fits a platformer of this type. Other sound effects work okay, though Hat Girl makes a strange, almost grunting sound in spots that really sounds off. The humor is primarily juvenile, and while young kids may like the jokes, adults are more likely to groan at hearing them.

That brings me to frustration number three, perhaps the most egregious of them all: the horrible camera. Bad camera angles have been a bane to platformers since the genre began. Even some of the best have that part where the camera is not your friend. But in the best games of the genre, those are kept to a minimum. Not so with A Hat in Time. Bad camera angles abound, and are made even worse when Hat Girl vanishes from view because the camera is too close. It doesn’t help when she merges in with the environment, or gets stuck in it, forcing you to restart a level. While there are checkpoints in levels, there are no save points. That worked well in the early days of videogames, but is outdated now.

The bad camera can compound other awkward functions, like ringing a bell to make platforms solid. The problem is, these are time based, and the camera often can lead you to make multiple tries before getting somewhere. I needed to have great restraint from throwing the controller across the room during some sections. This led to rage quitting, which wasn’t helped by knowing I had to restart the damn level all over again.

Adding yet another frustration (number four), some levels would be locked, with the game not telling you what you needed to unlock them. I found that out by accident. A simple message saying you need to do Act so and so in Chapter such and such would have gone a long way here.

Now, you may be thinking that A Hat in Time is a real piece of garbage in light of my complaints, and yet that would not be entirely accurate. The game does put forth some good ideas, especially once you get the grappling hook, and it does vary gameplay. One level has you solving a murder mystery on a train. Another has you leading a parade. And yet another has you going about turning off giant faucets that are spewing lava. It’s this variety that keeps things a bit more fresh and from feeling stale. Going into the Subcon Forest and having to sign a contract to perform tasks in order not to lose your soul was clever enough. Even getting involved in a movie competition between two directors was a neat idea.

Sadly, for every good idea, the mechanics seemed to misfire and hold things back. All the good ideas in the world don’t help if the gameplay is marred by imprecise controls and a bad camera.

So, in the end, I can neither recommend A Hat in Time, nor can I say avoid it entirely. Those skilled at platformers may find this right up their alley, as it does hearken back to classic games of the genre. While aimed at younger kids with some of the humor and the colorful, cartoony style graphics, some kids may get too frustrated to try to keep playing, and move on. Those who love platformers but don’t have the best of skills, for whatever reason (for myself, being 54 years of age and having arthritis in my hands doesn’t help), may want to wait for a huge price drop or for it to go free for PS Plus or Games with Gold. With just a bit of tweaking, tightening controls and fixing the camera, this could have been a great and accessible platformer for all ages and skill levels. Sadly, that’s not What I found. I’ll keep trying, but have little hope I’ll see the conclusion without help. On the plus side, there’s enough here that makes me want to keep trying. Had I waited to write this review until I reached the end, this game could be two years old or more. So that’s why you get this somewhat, sort of review, with a tentative score of 6/10, subject to change if I ever get anywhere. Try at your own risk, and know your own skills before going in, as well as the information provided here.

For those who dive in, good luck. And quit before you throw controllers. They’re expensive to replace.

About the Author

Thomas James Juretus