A Hat in Time immediately tickled that soft spot in my heart for classic character platformers, such as Spyro the Dragon or Ratchet and Clank — worlds I spent years of my childhood romping through, collecting all the shiny things. Most of the elements are there — outlandish characters, simple-yet-addictive platforming mechanics and my favorite throwback: minigames — but A Hat in Time lacks the cohesiveness in its design that made those experiences so memorable.
The tropey, glowy thing that you must collect in A Hat in Time are time pieces — hourglasses doubling as fuel that have escaped your spaceship and scattered across the planet below. You play as the caped, crusading Hat Kid who has to collect them all up again. Your time pieces have ended up in some strange places, though, so to find them, you’ll travel across several diverse, colorful worlds completing missions for each planet’s zany inhabitants. It’s a simple, yet addictive and time-tested premise.
These missions offer wonderful diversity that changes up the gameplay significantly. In one level, you might be leading a parade train to help movie-producing penguins shoot their next big flick. In another (admittedly terrifying) level, you’re tasked with sneaking through a house to steal a time piece back from the evil shadow queen that haunts it.
Tight platforming mechanics support these antics that make climbing up walls and hook-swinging over pits of lava immensely satisfying. The story-focused missions don’t offer much in the way of challenge, but A Hat in Time makes up for this in Time Rifts — secret levels that put your platforming chops to the test. These platforming challenges are welcome, almost cathartic respites from each world’s bombastic, action-packed story missions, and considering you’re also rewarded with a time piece for completing each one, there’s plenty of incentive to track them down.
In addition to Time Rifts, each world’s boss fight serves as another test of your platforming finesse. These showdowns add a welcome dose of challenge to A Hat in Time’s melting pot of simple platforming missions, as defeating each boss requires you to be quick on your cute little feet. You’ll also need to take advantage of mechanics explored in that boss’s hub world, like one world’s introduction of the hook swing or apples that explode when you throw them, so beating a boss impresses a sense of mastery in your abilities.
The combination of diverse story missions, platforming challenges and boss fights keeps A Hat in Time from ever becoming dull, but it does mean you’ll become pretty familiar with the game’s loading screen by the time you fell the final boss. Each of the eccentric worlds you go to, like the breezy coastal city of Mafia Town and the spooky Subcon Forest, are fully explorable from the start, and each story mission takes place in a different part of these hubs. But the game never lets you settle into these colorful worlds, pulling you out of the level to your spaceship hub when you complete each mission. This keeps gameplay fresh by allowing players to easily hop to new and old worlds or to replay missions they really enjoyed, but at the expense of being pulled out of the experience just as you were getting into it.
This pacing issue extends to the game’s ending, which you can complete before you’ve found every time piece. I finished the last story mission around 65% game completion, but as frenetic and fun as the final mission is, making it available so early in the game left me feeling unincentivized to continue exploring afterward. Despite the game introducing an entirely new free-roam hub for me to explore. (Ironically, I had the most fun in this final endgame hub, which made me wonder why the rest of A Hat in Time wasn’t designed the same way.)
Just as the game struggles to reward you for playing past the last boss, it doesn’t provide much of a payoff for collecting the game’s bobbles — called Pons — scattered throughout the world. Pons act as a currency that you can use to unlock new missions or buy upgrades for Hat Kid (expressed as cute little badges on your hat), but after the first three hours playing, I’d already purchased the four or five useful badges, so again, I spent much of the game without anything to look forward to.
You can also craft new hats for Hat Kid by finding just-out-of-reach balls of yarn that you can only obtain by completing brief platforming challenges. Thankfully, collecting balls of yarn yields a greater payoff than tediously tracking down pons — new hats grant Hat Kid (mostly) useful abilities, like the Brewing Hat that lets you throw explosive concoctions at your enemies or the Sprint Hat that (when upgraded) lets you race through levels on a moped. Switching between these abilities is seamless, unlike switching your badge upgrades, which requires you to pause the game and switch upgrades in the mere three available slots.
A Hat in Time
Most of A Hat in Time feels like a modge podge of creative ideas only amateurly stitched together. The game teeters between delightful charm (like the time I encountered a Mafiosa who wanted to play patty-cake then deceptively punched me across Mafia Town) and blatant lack of polish (like a cutscene where certain characters’ limbs seemed paralyzed in a T position.) If a lighthearted, collect-a-thon platformer is your jam, A Hat in Time will constantly please you with its fun platforming and nuanced, cartoony world, but don’t go in expecting the finish and cohesion of the classic platformers it takes its inspiration from.