Some time last year, a game called A Hat in Time on Kickstarter was brought to my attention that checked off a whole bunch of boxes in the “What Seth Looks For In A Game” list. It promised to be a Nintendo 64-era-inspired collectathon platformer, taking a lot of cues from Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario 64. It showed off beautiful cel shaded graphics that seemed to be inspired by The Legend of Zelda: the Wind Waker. It bursted with color and personality, and the stretch goals it inevitably met added some key features that shot it up to the top of my most-wanted list.
While a lot of indie games are invoking nostalgia with 8-bit and 16-bit graphics, A Hat in Time was tapping the 64-bit era for a revival I hadn’t seen suggested in a while. With Rare largely ignoring the Banjo-Kazooie license, I had an itch for a old-school collectathon game, an itch that even the newer Marios, however excellent, weren’t scratching.
So it was with great anticipation that the Alpha was announced, which is a small slice of gameplay that would give backers a little taste of what their hard-earned money was funding. After spending a short amount of time with it, I was left with a pretty good impression of what to expect for the full product. It wasn’t so much an Alpha than it was a demo, a showcase, a proof of concept.
But when the concept is good enough, even showing off that little bit is effective in both proving the quality and increasing excitement.
In the Alpha there were two acts present. These acts are smaller parts of even bigger sections of the game, so basically the Alpha gives out 2 acts from 2 chapters. In the first, the player gets to explore Mafia Town, the first world of the game. While you may think a town crawling with member of the mafia wouldn't be the nicest place to lounge around in, I found myself not wanting to leave. This area was beautiful, and had plenty of life to it. It’s definitely a place I wanted to get free reign in, and more opportunity to explore its nooks and crannies.
The gameplay involved in the Mafia town segment involved chasing down a mysterious girl and eventually taking out some Mafia members with an umbrella. Along the way there were colored orbs to collect, which no doubt come in to play in the finished product, but as it stands they mostly existed to lead you along on the correct path. It was incredibly short, especially so if the time wasn't taken to explore and poke around a bit.
Mafia Town is bright and colorful, a perfect showcase for the graphical style. It’s littered with little bits to collect and things to jump on, like any good 3D collectathon platformer has. Distant hot air balloons drift lazily in the distance, adding a sense of depth to the world and making it feel like a place where people actually do things, rather than serve as a playground for the player and the player only.
I definitely want to see more of it.
What I don’t want to see more of is the Witch in the second playable act, the third act from what’s going to be chapter 2.
In what is one of the most jarring changes of atmosphere I’ve experienced in a while, the second part of the Alpha has you sneaking around a haunted mansion, with a frightening smoke-witch who has a piercing glowing red eye chasing after you. Gameplay in this section involves a little more puzzle-solving, with adventure-like “grab this take it here activate this thing” actions. It’s also frightening as hell, though I do scare easily.
The witch and the mansion she lives in further show off the graphics of the game, with the shadowy terror herself being the main centerpiece. While you’re spotted, a blur clouds the screen, and her piercing red eye stares right through the screen and straight into your soul, and it’s time to run.
The Alpha was short and sweet, and was pretty much what I expected based on what Gears for Breakfast, the developers, were saying about it. The money I threw at them feels justified, and what they presented with the Alpha proves they have what it takes to make a compelling platformer. This is still at the top of my most wanted list, and is only poised to climb higher.