It’s been somewhat of a disappointing year for platformer games on Xbox One. Sure, we’ve had a solid experience with Yooka-Laylee and a few other notable titles, but nothing that really stands out as truly unique. Each system has heavily pushed the promotional train for at least one promising platformer. Nintendo have enjoyed Super Mario Odyssey, and PlayStation have enjoyed Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. Xbox on the other hand, well we got shafted with the underwhelming Super Lucky’s Tale. Needless to say that I myself have been longing for an intriguing platformer to step on up and fill that void, and I got all of that and more with the newly released A Hat in Time. I wont lie, before its announcement for Xbox One I knew very little about this game. Though after checking out its massively impressive stream of positive reviews over on PC, I became quite excited.
The adventure begins with Hat Girl, a space explorer who happens to be sabotaged by the Mafia whilst journeying home. This attack leads to Hat Girl losing 40 hourglasses that are used to power her ship, forcing her on an adventure across several planets to seek out her lost fuel. Your first port of call? Mafia Town – a locale that’s dominated by a bunch of hefty Mafia Men that serve no purpose but to get in your way and make your life difficult. The setup may indeed be a bit bonkers but it manages to capture that magical platforming vibe remarkable well. What really stands out throughout the entirety of play is how innovative and fresh the game remains, constantly challenging the player with new and exciting functionalities rather than relying on the same formula from beginning to end (Super Lucky’s Tale – take notes).
Different planets await to be unlocked via collecting a set amount of timepieces, and these planets serve as stages for you to work through as you adventure on in the game. Hat Girls sizeable ship acts as your main hub, and it’s jam packed with hidden secrets that can only be obtained or unlocked throughout the course of the game. It’s a colourful and well designed ship that manages to grab your attention from the get-go, often teasing you with gated sections that wont immediately be available to you. Stuffed pillows and toys are sprawled all over the place along with a big slide and other child-like belongings. It’s endearing and charming, which can also be said about our heroine. A good platformer needs a good leading cast, and Hat Girl certainly fills those boots. She’s memorable and more importantly, likeable.
In fact I grew quite fond of many of the characters within, including Mustache Girl. Hat Girl meets Mustache Girl very early on and seemingly aids her on her quest to bring down the Mafia once and for all. I wont dish out any spoilers, but there’s more meat to the matter here than you would expect from any given platformer, that’s for sure. The locations that you’re taken to range and differ from one another excellently, which further ensures that you’re fully engaged from beginning to end. The second chapter revolves around two birds that are making their own movies in an attempt to win a prize, with Hat Girl as the star of the show. This takes you through various scenes that lightly lean on iconic settings that you’ll be all too familiar with – such as solving a murder mystery on a train. You’re also taken to Subcon Forest, a spooky uneasy stretch of woods that’s dominated by spirits and ghouls. It absolutely goes without saying that A Hat in Time knows how to constantly change things up and entice its fans.
The actual platforming is also thoroughly entertaining, remaining tight and responsive from the second you pick up the controller to the second you put it down. The controls are well laid out and the physics are well struck. One of the only problems I had with the game is the camera, which doesn’t always play ball in a way that it should. It regularly tends to aim off in directions that it shouldn’t be pointing, but it’s reliable enough to see the adventure through nevertheless, if indeed irritating from time to time. The aim of the game is to make your way through the planets via collecting the aforementioned timepieces, nabbing different sorts of head-wear through picking up yarn across each stage. Despite that you wont be crafting a huge number of hats throughout the game, each stage is packed with secrets and collectables that push you into looking at each nook and cranny.
These hats each come with their own specific abilities, such as telling you where you should be going or enabling a faster sprint. You can also unlock badges that can be attached to your hats, granting you even more abilities including additional attacks and grappling hooks. These items often open up new possibilities in areas that you have already traversed, which makes it all the more exciting to go back and see what you can use your hats and badges on to seek out more content. It helps of course that A Hat in Time is full of colour and life, which goes hand in hand with the brilliant design of each world. This is further upheld by a great soundtrack that will stick in your head long after the end-game. Rounding off each location is a fierce boss encounter, and these also range magnificently from one to the next. These battles tend to be more reflex based than anything else in the game, and the difficulty of each fight steps it up a notch as you dive deeper in. Bosses will throw projectiles at you, try to squash you with huge objects, and dish out heaps of attacks that will regularly push your skills to the limit.
Touching up on the difficulty of A Hat in Time, I found the pacing and the scaling of difficulty to be near perfect. Unlike Yooka-Laylee and Super Lucky’s Tale, A Hat in Time is truly hard to overcome at certain points in the game. This (if you ask me) is exactly what a platformer should be. I fully appreciate that there’s a wide target audience for the genre at hand, but I often find that many titles, such as the example titles above, present overly simplistic difficulty to ensure that younger players can get through it without too much struggle. A Hat in Time on the other hand is an exception, being that it’s challenging enough to keep you from feeling as though you’ve had “the win” handed to you on a silver platter, but not too hard that it causes moments of frustration. Those that plan on maxing the game out will have their work cut out for them, because it certainly doesn’t want to hand that accolade out too easily, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
A Hat in Time is a sensational platformer that boasts hours upon hours of inventive and diverse fun. There’s some issues with the consistency of the game, such as not properly relaying where you should be going early on, and the problems with the camera can be annoying too. With these small faults to the side, there’s not much else that I can complain about. The design, the visuals and the soundtrack are equally impressive and memorable, which can also be said about the cast. It goes without saying that following the bland release of Super Lucky’s Tale, Xbox players needed this. A Hat in Time is charming, wonderful and massively entertaining. If you’re a fan of the platformer genre, this is one that you simply shouldn’t overlook, it’s easily one of the best platformer games released on Xbox One in 2017.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.