The first game from independent developer Gears for Breakfast is shaping up to be a must-have for fans of N64-era platformers and collect-a-thons. Citing heavy inspirations from Banjo-Kazooie, The Legend of Zelda, and Mario 64 (and even featuring music from composer Grant Kirkhope), A Hat in Time already feels like a suitable follow-up to those great titles all these years later. The game is currently in a very early development stage, with the Beta just having been released last month, but that doesn’t stop it from being downright fun and continuing to fuel my insatiable urge for more adventures of Hat Kid and the nefarious Mustache Girl.
It’s worth noting to be completely up front that this is not the most neutral of previews. I have been excited about A Hat in Time since it first appeared on Kickstarter back in 2013, even backing the game so I could get my hands on an Alpha copy when it would become first available. Sadly for me, the game ran poorly on my computer and suffered from wonky gamepad support so I put it mostly on my mental back-burner until a more stable release came along. Well, the release of a Beta build that involves fantastic gamepad support has finally given me the chance to play and I couldn’t be more excited about A Hat in Time going forward.
The story of A Hat in Time is simple and doesn’t seem to be fully fleshed out yet, but what is there is loaded with charm. It starts with you being accosted by a robot mobster from Mafia Town demanding a toll because “even ships in space” need to pay to go past Mafia Town. In doing so, the robot breaks a window and creates a vacuum that sucks the main character, Hat Kid, and all her time pieces that serve as fuel for her ship onto the planet below. From there the game is a scavenger hunt to collect all these pieces to gain access to new areas. While still light on actual story elements, each area is packed with little bits of extra personality, especially Mafia Town.
I also love how the game takes a complete 180 part way into the game, when you’re put in the Subcon Forest. One of the Acts switches to insanely creepy/heart-pounding levels and the rapid change from the cutesy mafia robots to the dead Queen Vanessa that chases you throughout her mansion while you frantically try to collect keys is executed perfectly. In general the game does a great job balancing its “cuteness” without shoving it your face to a sickening degree. Everything is downright adorable, don’t get me wrong, but there are enough serious nods and darker tones scattered around that make it feel full of depth.
Just as intended, the game plays very similarly to Super Mario 64 with the aesthetic of Wind Waker. Jumping feels great already, if a little floaty at times, and the worlds are created in such a precise way that everything feels like it takes a level of skill to get to, but not enough to turn new players off of fully diving into the game. Scattered throughout each of the game’s levels are collectibles that range from green gems for “energy” to red health orbs to badges that can be collected and crafted.
These badges are one of the first ways where A Hat in Time starts to diverge from the games it is inspired from. The game is a true platformer at heart, but badges give it a bit of an RPG twist, allowing you craft and utilize them for different in-game power-ups and abilities. Currently there are three different categories that these badges can be slotted into – skills activated by pressing RB, skills that augment your jumping (such as the ability to float by using your umbrella weapon), and skills that give benefits automatically (think passive stats). In typical collect-a-thon fashion, these badges are crafted by finding them scattered throughout stages. They can either require a a task to be completed – like saving a dweeb from mob bullies – or found laying in a difficult-to-reach area.
While there aren’t a ton of them yet, you can also collect various hats and masks that grant you different abilities. One hat, for example, gives you the added ability to attack while in mid-air, and a fox mask will let you see secret areas.
Getting to each of these worlds is a matter of traversing a hub-world, known as Hat Kid’s spaceship. This hub is one of the many stretch goals reached by the initial Kickstarter campaign that brought in $296,360 when all was said and done, blowing past its modest $30,000 goal set by the developers. Similar to Banjo-Kazooie or Super Mario 64, you access each world (or “Chapter”) by collecting a certain number of special items. This time however, instead of jaggies or stars you’re collecting little hourglasses which serve as the ship’s energy source and power up each room where a telescope is located that transports you to your chosen Chapter. When selecting each Chapter, you also select a specific Act to go to (with a free roam option available in the first Chapter, Mafia Town).
As much as I’ve enjoyed recent Nintendo platformers, one thing they are really missing is a hub-world like this. Even in such an early stage of development, A Hat in Times nails it with the right amount of charm and world-building that gives you something to cling to in between stages instead of a static menu. Without lengthy cutscenes or otherwise out-of-place story elements, you are put into Hat Kid’s world easily and accessibly.
One of the more interesting aspects of A Hat in Time is the developer’s dedication to being speed runner friendly. They have vowed to keep any glitches that don’t interfere with actual gameplay intact that speedrunners find – meaning if you can perform a complicated series of moves that let you fly through a roof to beat the game a little quicker, Gears for Breakfast is fine with leaving it in. They don’t have to do this of course, but people are going to speedrun the game anyway, so it’s a nice touch to keep the community in mind. It’s still small compared to other big speedrun games, but a community is already forming around A Hat in Time.
It’s stressed continually, and constantly shown at the bottom of the screen during gameplay, that A Hat in Time is in an early Beta stage and nothing we actually see yet should be taken as a final product. But with that said, the game is already looking to be that big AAA platformer you’ve wanted for over a decade, but from a small indie studio based out of Denmark. If this Beta is any indication, the future is very bright for Hat Kid and I can’t wait play through it.
A Hat in Time can currently be had one of several ways from the official site. Being that they promised Kickstarter backers a certain price on the Beta, they’re sticking to it with their post-Kickstarter prices. There’s the standard version for $20, which gives you just the final game. If you want to also get the Beta, you can also purchase the “Upgrade Beta” package, which grants you that for an additional $10. And if you want two copies of the final game as well as two copies of the Beta and the full soundtrack, you can grab the Deluxe Edition for $40. All of the previously mentioned versions come with a Steam Key that gets automatically updated as game development progresses.
Currently the game is only confirmed for PC and Mac, but Gears for Breakfast is hoping for a future release on the Wii U.
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