A Hat in Time: The Cutest Darn 3D Platformer

A Hat in Time is a 3D Platformer developed by Gears for Breakfast and published by Humble Bundle. It released on the PC in October 2017 and the PS4 / Xbox One in December 2017. A Nintendo Switch version was later released in October 2019. It costs $30. I played the Nintendo Switch version.

With Super Mario 3D All-Stars fresh in my mind, I was expecting this indie darling to be endearing yet rough around the edges. I mean, indie studios don’t make 3D Platformers for a reason, right? How wrong I was. It’s not every day you get a Platformer this good, 2D or 3D, indie or otherwise.

The best way I can describe A Hat in Time is it’s the Shovel Knight of N64 and GameCube Platformers. It doesn’t have many unique ideas of its own, but it blends mechanics from other games in a way that feels fresh. It’s a DJ that knows how to sample and remix very well. It also has a confusing DJ name – what is A Hat in Time supposed to mean, anyway?

You play as Hat Kid, the most adorable mascot ever made. While passing by a planet in her spaceship, a member of the Mafia knocks on her window… from space… and demands she pay a toll for going by the planet. When she refuses to pay, he punches a hole in her cockpit window and her fuel, Time Pieces, escape through the vacuum of space and scatter all across the world.

Time Pieces are the main collectible, much like Jiggies or Stars.

Hat Kid’s spaceship acts as a hub. From there you can select which level to visit with little room to explore. The mission setup is similar to Super Mario 64 and Sunshine, where you walk up to a telescope to select a Chapter, and then pick which Act to enter. Each Chapter has its own self-contained story, and each showcases a different historical take on the 3D Platformer. Chapter 1 sets you in Mafia Town, a tropical sandbox not unlike Delphino Plaza from Super Mario Sunshine. The only difference is that the locals want to trip you and steal your money. Chapter 2, on the other hand, has linear gauntlets like Super Mario Galaxy. But instead of jumping around planets, Hat Kid enters a movie studio (with several stealth sections) and gets herself entangled in a movie-making competition between two bird directors. Chapter 3 has Hat Kid selling her soul and consequently buying it back by finishing tasks for a charismatic ghost in a charming haunted forest.

If the opening cutscene didn’t give it away, this game’s story is rather wacky, something rather prevalent from early 3D Platformers. And yet the characters give the game a unique flavor of their own. They often play on dark humor, which doesn’t always hit the mark, but I appreciate that they’re trying to stand out.

Hat Kid’s moves are rather basic at first, but as you collect yarn, craft more hats, and collect badges to wear, this moveset expands. It’s expressive and responsive. I loved diving in midair then rolling out of it to make incredibly precise jumps. I didn’t quite enjoy the grapple, though, which sometimes didn’t give me the momentum I needed to cross a gap. 99.5% of the time, the game feels remarkably good to control, but you do notice the 0.5% that doesn’t quite work.

Gears for Breakfast understood exactly what makes 3D Platformers fun. They made a well-oiled set of moves and designed delightful environments to use them in. It’s the tried-and-true acrobatic goodness that I go to Platformers for.

The music for these sections are probably the best in the game, it’s so relaxing. I genuinely went out of my way to find each Time Rift, because I knew a good Platforming course was in store for me.

Every once in a while you find Time Rifts, which take you to special linear obstacle courses copied right out of Super Mario Sunshine‘s F.L.U.D.D.-less stages. But that’s by no means a bad thing. These stages especially make A Hat in Time feel most like a sequel to Sunshine, which is exactly the kind of Platformer I’d want.

The game performs rather well on the Switch, sporting a bright and colorful art direction. In handheld mode I noticed the game was a bit blurry, but the framerate remained solid. Granted, the Switch version has had several updates, so if you played it before I did, you might have experienced more jank. I’ve heard it performs very well on PC, but your mileage may vary. I wanted the Switch version because all cute Platformers belong on Nintendo consoles, duh.

Overall, if you like Mario games, then you’ll love A Hat in Time. I thought Gears for Breakfast might’ve tried to punch above their weight with this game, but I was quite wrong. No mission was unfun. Beginning through end, Hat Kid took me on a wild ride on-par with the best 3D Platformers of the ’90s and ’00s. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and say it’s one of the best indie games I’ve ever played.

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