A Hat in Time bills itself as being a “cute-as-heck” platformer with a nostalgic flair and, for the most part, the game certainly fits the bill. Drawing inspiration from classic Nintendo 64 era 3D platformers, A Hat in Time puts players in the role of Hat Girl – the adorable hatted protagonist who begins the game floating contentedly in her pillow filled space ship. Hat Girl’s on a mission to get home, and she’s got just enough time pieces to use as fuel to get her there. She’s close to her destination when she’s confronted by a member of the Mafia knocking on the windshield. The mafia man demands that Hat Girl pays a toll for her “boat”, even though they’re in space, busting a hole in the windshield after Hat Girl refuses to pay. That hole results in a vacuum which sucks open the door to fuel vault. Hat Girl’s time pieces are sucked out into space and scattered across several different planets.
Now if she wants to get home, Hat Girl must visit each of these planets and track down her missing time pieces. She begins her quest in Mafia Town, a seemingly idyllic village with adorable houses, shops, and proper landscaping that is the home to (Surprise!) the Mafia. Big, burly mafioso dressed in blue suits and “Kiss the Cook” aprons litter the landscape, providing a formidable foe for Hat Girl to take out with her umbrella and homing attacks. Mafia Town is also the home to one Mustache Girl, another non-fan of the Mafia who has big plans for how to deal with the Mafia that has overrun her home. Specifically she wants to chop them up and put the tiny bits that remain in jars. You read that right. A Hat in Time may be adorable and resemble a Saturday Morning Cartoon with its cell shaded art style and childish protagonist, but there are more than a few moments that may raise parents’ eyebrows.
In addition to Mafia Town and Mustache Girl’s unwavering desire to keep mafioso bits in little jars, Hat Girl also later visits Subcon Forest. The forest is adorable in its doom and gloom atmosphere, with Hat Girl platforming her way by jumping across tree stumps and branches and using mushrooms like trampolines. It is under the thumb of a mysterious ghostly demon figure, however, who captures Hat Girl in a variety of traps while she is exploring and requires her to sign contracts that she’ll complete missions in order to regain her soul. On another planet, Hat Girl gets roped into a quarrel between Owls and Penguins, both of whom choose her to be the stars of their respective movies. Alongside the main missions that players experience in each chapter there are also time rifts that can be discovered and unlocked. These bonus stages are nothing more than simple platforming exercises that help with unlocking additional time pieces, but they are reminiscent of bonus stages from the 3D platformers of yesteryear.
If the themes for the various chapters all sound a bit disjointed, its because they indeed are. The plot to A Hat in Time is nothing short of eccentric, with Hat Girl coming across an array of characters who seem to have nothing at all to do with another.Even Mustache Girl, who one would assume is an important NPC in the first chapter just disappears for the entire middle portion of the game. At times, it can feel as if you’re playing different games that all revolve around similar mechanics.
At least the mechanics themselves are simple to understand. Hat Girl can find yarn scattered across the various locations she visits, and that yarn can in turn be used to make a variety of hats. Each hat has its own special ability that can be activated by pressing left trigger. The top hat that players start with, can zero in to help players find their next objective where the ice hat offers a helpful ground pound attack. Hats can be swapped out on the fly using the left bumper to pull up a menu wheel. Unfortunately during play, this wasn’t always a responsive menu. Choosing to change over to one hat would result in finding myself standing there with the hat I had already been wearing all along. At times it would take two or three attempts for my selection to ‘stick’ and the hat I had chosen actually be equipped.
The functionality of the various hats can further be modified by purchasing badges using pons, the in the game currency. Hat Girl only has the option to add one badge to her hats in the beginning, but extra safety pins can be bought from the traveling salesman to increase your badge count at later stages. Badges can provide Hat Girl extra abilities such as the grappling hook, or upgrading her sprint hat to include a scooter she can ride. Badges remain in place regardless of which hat players choose to wear, requiring accessing the start menu to change.
A Hat in Time has no shortage of worlds to explore, and is sure to keep players entertained for hours despite its disconnected story telling. It is, however, a 3D platformer and that means it comes along with the same curse that many of its predecessors carried. The camera. Its awful. While there are options in the menu to adjust the camera’s distance from Hat Girl and even to adjust how smoothly it moves to limit motion sickness, it does all just feel like a placebo. No matter what camera settings I chose, I was frequently in situations where it was difficult to pinpoint where Hat Girl was going to land following a jump, or if she would catch a hook shot when it really mattered. Often times this meant replaying an area countless times in hopes that maybe this next time would be when the camera lined up just right. You may want to consider playing the game with a controller that you don’t mind breaking in frustration.