For fans of platformers, 2017 has been quite a year - with Yooka Laylee, the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and Unbox: Newbie's Adventure all hitting consoles, to name but a few, there's also been Snake Pass, Sonic Mania and Super Mario Odyssey as the platforming revival continues. For those of us who dig a bit of collectible-hunting, platforming fun, A Hat In Time finishes off the year in the most stylish way possible - with a dapper collection of hats, in what is one of the more imaginative games we've played in recent years. It's bright, it's colourful and it certainly doesn't take itself seriously, as you run, jump and, er, hat, your way through its wacky world, knitting together some cutesy super powered hats to accessorise your little adventure.
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Playing as 'some girl' with a penchant for headgear, A Hat In Time kicks off with a calamity, as is traditional, when the space ship you were travelling home on gets attacked, scattering its hourglass-shaped fuel pieces far and wide across the planet below. Before she can return home, she'll need to track down all of her dropped time pieces, which often isn't as straight forward as it sounds. Seeing Hat Kid starring in movies, selling her soul to an evil spirit and beating a wannabe chef-come-Mafia boss to name but a few, with more character than you can shake a hat at, and a wealth of collectables and missions to complete, A Hat In Time is the perfect game to relax with over Christmas - while wearing the obligatory Santa hat, of course.
Borrowing heavily from the greats like Banjo-Kazooie, A Hat in Time gives you various worlds to explore, each littered with collectables and secrets to find. There's money for buying badges to improve your abilities, yarn you can use to stitch together new hats, and hidden relics to pick up along the way - along with the elusive Time Pieces that are the key to getting home. Each time piece has its own mission associated with it, with several being set in each hub world, but with minor tweaks and changes depending on the circumstances, whether it's rescuing your mysterious red riding hood-inspired friend/rival Mustache girl from evil Mafia clutches, solving an avian murder mystery, or sneaking around a spooky mansion while avoiding its demonic owner. Although having to revisit Mafia Town for the seventh time might sound like a bit of a chore, there's a really impressive variety of oddball scenarios to play through, and level design is easily one of A Hat In Time's strongest suits, to the point where it often doesn't feel like the same level again. Plus, there's a disco penguin with platform shoes and a train conductor that sounds like Uncle Scrooge - what's not to like?
A particular highlight comes in the second world, where two rival groups of film-making birds are competing for a trophy. In an attempt to one up the other, they actually both end up recruiting you as the star of their shows, unbeknownst to the other. One sees you starring in a murder mystery whodunnit, sneaking your way around an owl's steam train to try and uncover the true culprit, having to put in some daredevil platforming to avoid being seen. Meanwhile, the other has you leading a parade of moon penguins, jumping around the rooftops to switch on the pyrotechnics and fireworks - but the catch is that you have to constantly keep moving, lest your parade band crash into the back of you as they snake around in your wake.
Yet no sooner have you navigated the pitfalls of bird Hollywood than you'll be whisked away to a haunted forest to play postman to a set of demons, euthanise a set of suicidal fire imps, and clear out someone's haunted attic before a business-savvy demon will let you have your soul back.
Whatever your current mission, you'll need to make clever use of your stable of hats, as each new piece of headgear comes with its own unique abilities, which are often the key to progressing. A winged 'Sprint Hat' that gives you a speedy dash (which comes in handy for a longer leap, too), a witchy 'Brewing Hat' that lets you stir up explosive potions, and a cutesy polar-bear-eared 'Ice Hat' that makes you into a solid ice statue - which can then ground pound off certain spring boards to catapult to new places - are really only the tip of the bonce-covering iceberg. Each hat requires a different quantity of yarn to make, with balls of each being found hidden in each hub world, some easy to find, some not so easy.
However, things do come a little unravelled occasionally. A Hat In Time doesn't have many issues really, but it can have the occasional difficulty spike and the odd camera hiccup that 3D platfomers often seem to struggle with. We struggled a lot with the first boss, whose one electric attack seems almost impossible to avoid (or perhaps simply requires more platforming prowess than we possess), and likewise, found sneaking around Queen Vanessa's mansion more than a little tricky. Like a much more cutesy and colourful Outlast, once Queenie gets gets a whiff of you messing up her abode, she's hot on your tracks like a demonic, shadowy sniffer dog, and your only choice is to hide, or run far enough away she gives up. Figuring out where to head for the best while her evil presence looms ever closer was a tad too stressful for us, and just that little bit too frustrating, given that one wrong move saw her throwing you back to the start - something compounded by the fact the game isn't especially clear about what you're meant to be doing. Perhaps it's a sign of how much we were enjoying it, but we're a bit bummed that A Hat In Time isn't exactly the longest game in existence either, with four worlds to work your way through, the last of which is a tricky gauntlet that requires you to put into practice all the platforming skills and abilities you've honed over the course of the game - although of course, those who want to find every secret and collectable will likely get a fair amount of mileage out of the game, regardless.
As the saying goes, though, you just can't keep a good hat down, and A Hat In Time is a seriously spunky, happy-go-lucky hoot of a platformer, with oodles of charm and a winning sense of humour to boot. And hats - plenty of hats. And honestly, what more do you want from a game? To say it's indie studio Gears For Breakfast's first title, it's a seriously polished little adventure, with some rather inventive levels packed into its ten to fifteen hour run time, and one that's well worth investing if you have a penchant for platformers. Or hats. Or both, even.
Format Reviewed: Playstation 4