Tuesday, January 7, 2020

A Hat in Time (NSW, PS4, XB1, PC) Review

For the first review of 2020, SuperPhillip Central takes a look at A Hat in Time, recently released on the Switch after months of online clamoring for the game from owners and fans alike of Nintendo's hybrid console. Check out the full review of A Hat in Time below.

A Neat Hat Trick

I cannot get enough 3D platformers, and perhaps part of that is growing up with the Nintendo 64, a console with an abundance of games in the genre. Heck, the whole generation was a love letter to the genre Super Mario 64 made popular. Nowadays, the genre is much more underrepresented, but the occasional gem does pop up and shine every now and then. One of these is Gears for Breakfast's A Hat in Time, which finally made its way to the Nintendo Switch as of this past fall. What a time for a review, then! While offering plenty of appeal, this promising 3D platformer does run into some problems that many games of the 3D platform genre suffer from, unfortunately. 

A Hat in Time begins with our heroine Hat Kid traveling in the stars aboard her spaceship. Suddenly, a member of the Mafia pulls alongside her, demanding a toll for passage. When Hat Kid declines, the Mafia man damages the window of the spaceship, thus sucking out Hat Kid and more importantly, the Time Pieces her ship uses as fuel. In order to return to her course to reach her intended destination, she'll have to retrieve as many Time Pieces as possible while interacting with the wacky characters of A Hat in Time's handful of worlds. 

The characters in A Hat in Time are suitably wacky and whimsical, each with their own charming personalities and eccentricities. Each line of dialogue is spoken, and the voice acting is rather nice and well done. I grew fond of plenty of the characters in the game, such as a menacing and foreboding specter that loves to make shadowy and sinister soul-stealing deals via contracts and a loudmouth director with a Scottish accent that never failed to make me smile. 

Hat Kid walks on tightropes like a regular circus star.
A Hat in Time's story plays out over the course of five worlds or chapters. These chapters are split up into acts, which greatly changes not only the objective of the level but also sometimes the geography of the world as well. While most of the levels in the game occur in open, completely nonlinear areas, sometimes you're in much more scripted levels. For instance, the second chapter, Dead Bird Studio's first act has Hat Kid stealthily making her way through various movies being filmed, all the while trying to remain undetected. Subsequent acts in this chapter don't take place in the same setting. Some take place aboard a train in a whodunnit mystery scenario while another places you in a small city set where you perform various actions to raise your publicity for a movie being shot. 

Shh! Make sure to stay quiet on set, Hat Kid!
Apart from completing the main objective in each act of A Hat in Time, there is a wide assortment of activities to be performed. From collecting Balls of Yarn to craft new hats that bestow Hat Kid with new powers (and there are more than enough of these Balls of Yarn so that you need not find every single one in the game to make progress) to discovering locations of Time Rifts, there is plenty to see and do in each level. One aspect that I greatly enjoyed in A Hat in Time is just discovering all of the little secrets found through proficient exploration. The motivation was there because I always knew that my wandering about a level and finding a distinct platforming challenge meant I would be properly rewarded for it.

"Catch me if you can!"
That said, on many occasions in A Hat in Time I would find myself getting easily lost due to the size and scope of some of the levels. Particularly, the Subcon Forest, which is the third chapter in the game, has an extremely large, expansive size and scope, and a lot of the time there aren't too many well defined points of interest. Things simply seem to blur together, making it difficult to navigate, something that would have been remedied with an in-game map. Though perhaps this would have taken away from the mystery and rewards for exploring, but even still, it would have made wandering across these large areas more enjoyable. Many times I'd lose track of where I needed to go or where I had found a collectible I couldn't get right away. I'd spend over ten minutes trying to remember where its location was and attempt to track it down. A map system would have been helpful here.

Some of the areas of A Hat in Time are a little too large for their own good without the assistance of a map.
There are bonus Time Pieces to earn when Time Rifts become detected in levels. These present you with a snapshot of the Time Rift's location, and challenge you to find them based on your knowledge of the scenery surrounding the rift in the snapshot. When you discover the rift's location, you're taken into a platforming challenge room, not unlike those seen in Super Mario Sunshine's bonus areas. These Time Rifts take a lot of platforming prowess to complete, and are pure, unadulterated, and enjoyable in their run and jump action.

Hat Kid has a host of abilities she can learn, and many of these come from the hats she can equip through acquiring the aforementioned assortments of Balls of Yarn. Different hats bestow different abilities, such as the Sprint Cap allowing Hat Kid to speed across levels with a high level of agility, the Brewing Hat grants the ability to chuck explosives that can destroy certain objects in Hat Kid's way, and the Dweller's Mask temporarily turns transparent platforms completely solid for our heroine to jump safely on. Those are but half of the available hats in the game, and each has alternate skins--or flairs, as the game calls them--that are unlocked through discovered coins found hidden in some truly crafty locations in levels. The various variants of hat varieties presents some entertainment in tricking out Hat Kid, as well as the color schemes you can also unlock to customize Hat Kid even further.

Forget explosive potions; Right now it looks like trouble is the only thing brewing here.
Apart from the hat abilities, Hat Kid can purchase badges and eventually equip up to three at once. These grant helpful bonus abilities like automatically picking up collectibles in close proximity to Hat Kid, like a magnet, and even one that points out locations of hidden collectibles. Though, the latter simply points an arrow in the general vicinity and doesn't straight up give away where these collectibles are. At the same token, I wish A Hat in Time was set up to show what acts of chapters have been completely ransacked of collectibles. As is, you have to enter each act of each chapter and equip the badge in question to see if you have everything in a given act or not. Very obnoxious and not really that intuitive design-wise for a completionist like myself.

The Windmill is a platforming challenge featured in A Hat in Time's
fourth chapter, a much more wide open world to explore.
Hat Kid controls splendidly in A Hat in Time. There is a certain finesse and tightness on display here, that is really nice to see and makes for a game that is fun to control. The elephant in the room, however, is the camera, which has been a thorn in the side of many 3D platformers, and it's present here as a problem in A Hat in Time. While in open areas, the camera behaves itself, it's when you enter narrower, more cramped and claustrophobic areas where you'll start seriously cursing at the camera as it causes you unintentional deaths from repeated missed jumps. There aren't too many scenarios like this in the base game, but the bonus chapter that unlocks after beating A Hat in Time is full of these. There is one particular act that features an iceberg-struck ship that has since capsized. You have to navigate through narrow chambers of freezing water that is quickly damaging with prolonged exposure to it, and the camera is as much of an enemy as anything else inside. It's by far one of the worst levels I've played in an otherwise strong 3D platformer in a long time.

Careful, Hat Kid, or you might stumble straight into a shocking development.
Performance-wise, it's a mixed bag regardless of what platform you're playing on. The screens provided in this review that I took are from the Nintendo Switch version. As you can see, anti-aliasing is something the team didn't implement in the game and it shows in a rather unappealing way. There are also frame-rate hitches--up to a second of pure stuttering sometimes--and lengthy load times, especially the initial one when starting up the game. The other console versions deal with various glitches as well, making A Hat in Time a game best played in its original PC form, if you have access to it. As I had a preference for portable play, the Switch version was my preferred platform.

A Hat in Time is generally a good time from beginning to end. It's just that the camera can be a real nuisance when it concerns tight and narrow areas, and technical performance problems in the form of glitches and frame-rate issues result in the game having a less than polished feel to it. That notwithstanding, A Hat in Time is otherwise a resounding success in my book. It offers satisfying worlds to explore, pleasing platforming, amusing characters, and I can't help but tip my own hat to the game.

[SPC Says: B]

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