3D platformers—those evocative of ‘90s-era fan favorites like Banko-Kazooie, Super Mario 64 and Crash Bandicoot—are definitely making a comeback. Fresh from raising £2 million from its Kickstarter campaign is Yooka-Laylee, which was released earlier this year in April. Yet, the game was marked by widespread disappointment from fans of the genre, who had hoped that the title would herald a second golden age for 3D platformers. What’s unfortunate isn’t that Yooka-Laylee failed to capture the genre’s essence; on the contrary, its biggest issue was its zealous faithfulness to the games it wanted to pay homage to—flaws and all.
Exhibiting a little more awareness about the genre’s strengths and limitations is A Hat in Time, another 3D platformer that also had a successful crowdfunding campaign. Like Yooka-Laylee, the studio behind A Hat in Time, Gears for Breakfast, was facing tremendous expectations. The fans’ voracity for another good ol’ fashioned 3D platformer was evident in how Gears for Breakfast busted its Kickstarter target by close to 10 times, raising about $300,000. Tons of people really want a good, nostalgic platformer—so it’s really, really great that A Hat in Time delivered.
Starring an adorable child simply known as Hat Kid, the game is predominantly a collect-a-tron that lets you explore every nook and cranny. You get to scour around levels hunting for balls of yarn to craft new hats with, which are imbued with useful abilities. Magical collectibles, too, are strewn all around, which you can trade for some nifty badges that augment your skills. But when the obsessive hunt for trinkets becomes a tad too exhausting, players are free to continue the Hat Kid’s main quest of searching for her lost timepieces. You know, instead of locking away later levels because you still have 100 more coins or pages or bananas or whatever-it-is to find.
A Hat in Time is meticulously crafted for the ‘90s kid who spent most of their hours on 3D platformers. The game nails nostalgia, and its popularity among players and critics alike probably stems from how it takes our rose-tinted memories of older games and presents them without the blemishes that mar our enjoyment. Think of Donkey Kong 64’s glitchy controls, or the lack of save points in other retro games; A Hat in Time generally does away with the faults associated with the genre. Its controls are seamless, and even the camera doesn’t feel as wonky (although it still gives me a bit of a headache occasionally).
At the same time, its developer is content with presenting the game as such: a relic exhumed from a few decades ago. With A Hat in Time, Gears for Breakfast doesn’t seek innovation; instead, the game is simply a return to form. Cute mascots, wafer-thin plot and juvenile (but genuinely charming) jokes—all hallmarks of the 3D platformers of yore—are aplenty. So while the game isn’t going to attract new players who crave for a gaming experience with a bit more depth, it’s probably not an issue for Gears for Breakfast, which clearly knows who its audiences are. It isn’t these folks. And if that’s what the studio has set out to achieve, I dare say that it’s pretty successful.
If you’re a 20- or 30-something who wishes to return to a simpler time, when such platformers are often used to broker truces in sibling rivalries, A Hat in Time will bring you way back. At least you no longer have to wrestle for the use of the controller or computer anymore, and just immerse yourself in the reverie of hoarding virtual knick-knacks.