It’s almost as if some developers had a great time with the GameCube. Nintendo’s much-maligned sixth generation offering, featuring its dorky handle and dearth of third party support, was never a darling of the sales charts. But it’s from some of its most entertaining and creative games that A Hat In Time takes its inspiration.
A hub-based 3D collectathon platformer is the sort of game which hasn’t appeared on the PC in years, and is now pretty much the exclusive reserve of Nintendo. In fact, with its spaceship-based hub and worlds unlocked by collecting special hourglasses in relatively open levels all containing several missions, you could be forgiven for thinking you were playing a reskinned Super Mario Galaxy.
But the Kickstarted A Hat in Time is actually a remarkably fleshed out and well-designed game in its own right. Starting in the rather bizarrely masculine Mafia Town fighting beefy mafiosi determined to take payment for parking your spaceship, the action moves to other locations, accessed through telescopes scattered throughout the ship.
Gameplay is rather similar to 3D Mario – coin-like collectibles litter each stage, and rather expansive worlds usually play host to one mission at a time, although exploration is still possible. Double jumps, dives and slides are crucial for navigating the world, although your character can be equipped with further powers through the use of collectible badges.
The game is still in beta, and has occasional issues of balance – the floating ability granted by an early badge makes survival very easy indeed, and a death scene was never forthcoming. There is also work yet to be done on the collision detection and the way the game handles slopes – It should not perhaps be feasible to run up a 60 degree incline.
The controls though are generally very tight and easy to use – albeit advisable to use with a controller rather than mouse and keyboard – and the missions are varied and interesting. One particularly puzzle-based mission set inside a mafia-run casino stands out, using as it does the platforming and puzzling elements in equal measure.
Boss battles change gameplay styles markedly, as the player is locked onto a 2D plane of movement to engage in a rather more classic platforming fight. The problem of difficulty recurs here – although bosses typically have large amounts of health and can take a good few umbrella whacks to bring down, their patterns are easy to learn and well-telegraphed, so death is never really a concern.
One innovative mechanic which is introduced is a movable and easily activated camera, which pauses the action and frees the camera from the constraints of the character, allowing for some rather fancy and artistic shots for those players who want them (or reviewers who need screenshots, see this page).
The graphical style borrows pleasingly from another GameCube hit – this time, it’s The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker. Cel-shading has long been a staple of the indie game market, but it’s deployed to considerable effect here. The vibrantly-coloured and atmospheric levels positively glow with cutesy charm, and the lower system requirements enable a relatively simple game to look as though it was produced by a AAA team.
The music is nicely varied and includes some rather unorthodox sounds, including prominent use of a theremin for that perfect 1950s sci-fi feel. It’s a very nice touch of the developers to include full and rather competent voice acting – something even this game’s spiritual forebears didn’t manage.
It’s fashionable in certain corners to deride things which got their break on Kickstarter, especially when they seem to lean so heavily on existing franchises. But A Hat in Time goes to show that a product inspired by the great successes of the past, which builds upon them and provides a new experience, can be something very special indeed.