Collect-a-thons are coming back. For a long time now, there has been a drought in the genre, with Super Mario Sunshine-esque games becoming rarer and rarer, despite their popularity. After over a decade of more linear (but not necessarily bad) Mario platformers, Nintendo seeks to fill their gap with Super Mario Odyssey, releasing at the end of October. But in the time leading up to that, gamers were hungry enough to fund two games on Kickstarter that promised to bring back the nostalgic fun that Super Mario Sunshine and others provided all those years ago.
The first was Yooka-Laylee, made by some of the folks who worked on the old Banjo-Kazooie games. It had all the ingredients of an acclaimed game, but wound up being a flawed and overall average release. This, along with other experiences, has cast a light of scepticism upon Kickstarted games in general. However, many retained hope for one particular release. In the works for an astonishing four years, and collecting near enough ten times the targeted amount of money, people have been optimistic about A Hat In Time. And this time, there is no sour aftertaste. This is a good game.
The protagonist, known simply as Hat Girl, is adorable. Let’s just get that out of the way. She is the lone passenger on a Spaceship, trying to get home. After refusing to pay the ship toll (which we are told applies to spaceships as well), Hat Girl finds herself stranded, orbiting a planet without power or fuel. She needs to collect enough ‘Time Pieces’ to power her ship up again. Thankfully, she has the ability to knit hats that give her special powers and abilities, and so the adventure begins.
From the second you fall from the sky into a dodgy looking alley in Mafia Town, you might find yourself in love. Charm is the order of the day here, and this game delivers it with generosity. Every world has something different and unique from the others to offer. World one is essentially a Super Mario Sunshine level, the atmosphere changing throughout missions from sunny, to rainy, to flooded with lava. The second world is one of this reviewer’s most enjoyable gaming experiences, despite being a more linear chapter.
Game Mechanics change quite often in this game, which is a red flag for some. Thankfully, A Hat In Time pulls them off with grace, with nothing in particular feeling out of place or forced. There’s platforming, murder mysteries, stealth missions and a genuinely scary horror mission, and it all fits together like a jigsaw made of pure, unfiltered joy. As well as this, hidden portals open up in certain levels, taking you to bonus stages harkening back to the secret levels from Super Mario Sunshine. It’s all so wonderfully nostalgic, but the game is able to power itself on its own strengths as well.
The writing in this game is wonderfully quirky, with an excellent range of cheery and occasionally dark humour that could get a chuckle out of anyone. And everything this game does right is tied together with a wonderful soundtrack. The game also comes with near-complete voice acting, although some have complained that it is a bit over the top. There is an option to change the speech to Banjo-Kazooie grunts, but you have to unlock that feature.
The game isn’t completely clean. Along with the at times overwhelming voice acting mentioned above, you may also struggle with platforming on occasion, feeling that some parts of the game could do with being cleaned up just a bit, and wall jumping is a bit fidgety at times. It’s also relatively easy to clip the camera through walls. In this case, these are minor issues that will probably have little to no effect on your enjoyment of the game, but they are worth mentioning.
This is an excellent game, breathing life back into a genre that hasn’t seen enough love since the days of the Gamecube. It will serve to tide over fans of “Collect-a-thon” games until Super Mario Odyssey’s release, and we believe it will remain loved long after that. A Hat In Time succeeds in brushing all disappointment from Yooka-Laylee under the rug.
A HAT IN TIME / DEVELOPER AND PUBLISHER: GEARS FOR BREAKFAST / PLATFORM: PC, PS4, XBOX 1 / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW ON PC (CONSOLE DATES TBC)