One of the core causes of PC elitism is rooted in the availability of cutting-edge hardware. Even Windows-based machines with a mid-range GPU can outperform the current generation of consoles. But Sony and Nintendo’s systems have a privilege that PCs often can’t touch: top-tier, first-party software. Efforts like the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and, of course, franchises such as Super Mario, Kirby, and Donkey Kong are still secluded on their respective platforms. Even with a top-tier rig, it’s hard not the envy the collection of effervescent, character-driven romps that are restricted to dedicated hardware.
Although Gears for Breakfast’ A Hat in Time is coming to console in the indeterminate future, it’s currently available only on PC. But more importantly, it’s about as close to a Super Mario Galaxy-like experience you can find on a Windows-based machine. Teeming with adorability, an infatuation with item collection, and thoroughly polished play mechanics, A Hat in Time is poised to produce a smile on the face of all but the most snobbish gamers.
The game’s preface gives a hint of the distinctive blend of whimsy, slapstick comedy, and even dark humor that awaits. When we first meet the game’s protagonist (regrettably called ‘Hat Kid’), she’s aboard a spaceship that resembles the dream room of any prepubescent girl, where a mountain of pillows implores a playful frolic and there’s no adult to regulate TV time. But as she awakens from hyper sleep and moves around the ship, a mysterious mustached man is found pounding on a port window.
When Hat Kid approaches, she finds the interloper demanding payment for traveling near Mafia Town. A refusal from the young heroine angers the collector, who punches through the pane, breaking the airlock. Subsequently, forty hourglasses, which the ship uses for fuel, are sucked into space and begin careening down on Mafia Town. Unsurprisingly, that means reconnoitering each environment, tackling the recurrent grunt and occasional boss, and gathering an assortment of items strewn about- all in an effort to get your craft remobilized.
The assortment of tasks might seem unimaginative, but the execution isn’t. Unlike PC-based contemporaries like Yooka-Laylee and Unbox: Newbie’s Adventure, A Hat in Time extends a hands-on approach across the game’s early hours. Yes, you can scour the game’s inaugural level for objects like pieces of yarn, relics, and rift tokens but there’s always a gentle guidance to safeguard against the feeling of being dropped into a half-empty sandbox.
Later, as you move away from Mafia Town and into an Alpine setting, A Hat in Time increases its amount of autonomy, allowing player experience to communicate a bearing and objective. While each milieu and the tasks within are often loosely linked, the variety of contexts contributes to the sensation of capricious quirkiness and ensure enthrallment throughout the title’s ten-hour playtime. What more, undertakings are delightfully succinct, with brevity that feeds into that sentiment of “just one more” mission.
Another of A Hat in Time virtues stems from the refinement of its control scheme. Save for the game’s camera, a habitual Achille’s Heel for three-dimensional platformers, directing Hat Kid is largely a delight. Endowed with the conventional attack, jump, double jump, and wall climb, there are also movements that are rich with navigational potential. A belly slide can be canceling midway through the animation, permitting players to circumvent imminent peril or even extending the span of a leap. Perform a dive just as Hat Kid reaches the ground, and she’ll boost about, a maneuver that well undoubtedly be essential for any speed runner. Achieving a sixty-frame-per second output on even mid-range machines, the protagonist feels gratifyingly lithe, bounding around environments with an infectious feeling of jubilation and nailing the sensation of hyperreal physics.
The title keeps things fresh as Hat Kid’s yarn collection grow, thereby earning new hats. Like Super Mario Odyssey, these bestow the protagonist with power, from your default headwear which highlights the nearest point of interest to a feather cap that bestows the ability to sprint. While players might assume the game’s title and hourglass collectables might infer a significant amount of time travel, the game’s sole temporal manipulation comes when donning the Time Stop hat. Unsurprisingly, utilizing this head covering temporarily freezes things around Hat Kid. Hopefully, the two additional stages promised by the developers make more use of the item.
Another power-up arrives in form of equippable badges, which provide passive perks to players. From an automatically deployed umbrella that prevents damage that would occur from falls, a ridable scooter that increases your movement rate, and a beam badge which allows your melee attack to be charged, most manage to be both playful and useful. One issue we found in both the review and retail builds centers around players earning additional badge slots, which could make progress a bit more difficult.
On PC, even a middling i5 and GTX 1050 can attain a solid 1080/60 output from A Hat in Time, demonstrating the potency of the Unreal engine. Sadly, that kind of performance can’t quite be matched on console. On the PlayStation 4, Hat operates at a halved framerate, which might be disappointing for those seeking the silkiest refresh rates possible. On the upside, the fidelity is preserved, with 1080 lines of resolution nearly removing any instances of aliasing.
But largely, fluidity isn’t radically undermined, with the console iterations extending nearly the same level of control responsiveness as PC rigs with a robust card. Currently, running the game on a PS Pro doesn’t produce any noticeable improvements, even with boost mode on. Hopefully, a solid sixty frames per second will be possible on the latest iteration of Sony’s hardware.
Challenge is also found in A Hat in Time’s Rift stages. Centering around either item collection or navigation-based assessments, these are supreme tests of skill, able to produce expletives from mild-mannered players. Fortunately, the trials do provide dividend, contributing playful divergences that do everything from offering remixed music to alternative color schemes. Not that the title needs any aesthetic improvements, from the vibrant-hued detailed environments to a soundtrack that features work from Rare veteran Grant Kirkhope, the title is already first-rate.
PC owners who ever coveted three-dimensional console platformers are encouraged to give A Hat in Time some of their recreational hours. They’ll find that a game that’s thoroughly charming and delightfully engrossing, exhibiting almost as much sheen as a first-party effort from Nintendo. Others have tried to channel the polish and playability of these classic, with hat kid coming within the height of a stove pipe of the leaders.
A Hat in Time was played on the PC with review code provided by the publisher.
Developer: Gears for Breakfast
Publisher: Gears for Breakfast
Release date: October 5th, 2017
Price: $29.99 via Steam