This year will surely go down in history as one of the best years for gaming in recent memory. Everywhere you looked there seemed to be something fantastic new on the horizon. One genre in particular got a whole lot of love is the 3D platformer, with quality games like Yooka-Laylee and Super Mario Odyssey bringing back one of best genres from the early days of 3D gaming to the forefront. Well add another game to the that list with A Hat in Time, one of the most creative and adorable platformers I’ve played in a long time. This is a game that will surprise you as you play through its story and another highlight of an incredible year.

Our story opens the adorable Hat Girl zooming through the galaxy on our way home. Along the way she is stopped near a mysterious planet where a meddling mafia goon causes an accident that sends Hat Girl’s hourglass shaped fuel cells (called Time Pieces), which also have the ability to alter time, spiraling to the planet below. In typical 3D platformer style it’s up to Hat Girl to head to the surface and recover these Time Pieces from the likes of the mafia, movie executives, death, evil birds and bearded little girls. Yep this game is a strange one and while it doesn’t get off on the right foot, this is a game that surprised me and is one of my favorite games of the year.

Billed as a love letter to the 3D platformers that were a big part of the late 90’s, early 2000’s  gaming scene, A Hat in Time really feels like taking a step back in time and playing something along the lines of Spyro the Dragon, Banjo-Kazooie or Super Mario Sunshine. From the your space ship / home / hub world you can choose to tackle levels that each have their own main objective for you to complete and earn more Time Pieces to move on in the game. The pacing really does feel like an older, pre-Odyssey, 3D Mario platformer which mostly hits all the right nostalgia receptors but can feel a bit dated, especially after playing more modern games.

However, one area where A Hat in Time stands above its peers is in its creative level design. Almost every single stage and world has a completely different core gameplay element that sets it apart from the rest of the game. On my way through the game I got to play through chase segments, a murder-mystery, a survival-horror style level, puzzle themed levels and pretty much everything in between. The amount of creativity on display here is second to none and kept me playing level after level, mostly because I was curious as to what the next stage would bring.

As I mentioned a bit earlier though, the game doesn’t get off to the best of starts and honestly, my first hour with the game I thought it was pretty so-so. The reason why is a combination of two things, for one, the game has very imprecise controls that definitely have their own ‘feel’ to them and take some time getting used to though thankfully the game is pretty generous with jumps/platforming physics but it still doesn’t feel nearly as refined as refined as other 3D platformers out there. Then there’s the fact that the game gives you very little direction in its early goings. Sure you know what world to visit and generally what your objective is but beyond that your left to your own devices which led to a lot of wandering around and wasted time before getting a sense of direction from the game.

But all that being said, once you get the hang of A Hat in Time‘s gameplay things will start to fall into place, especially when you get access to the more complex mechanics afforded by customizing your headwear. From traditional upgrades like being able to run faster or making exploding potions to more original downs like peering into alternate dimensions, these upgradable hats help make A Hat in Time stick out more in the 3D platformer scene. I strongly suggest you seek out as many yarn balls as possible, not only to craft new hats but because these abilities open up more levels in the main game as well as special remixed stages that will put you platforming skills to the test.

In the time-honored tradition of Rare-inspired platformer, A Hat in Time features tons (and I mean tons) of collectible hidden throughout its levels. From the already mentioned yarn balls, to secret challenge areas, to tokens used to unlock cosmetic changes and just plain ol’ money to buy upgrades there’s plenty of reasons to explore every nook and cranny of the game’s levels. Though I will provide a word of caution as, similarly to Super Mario Sunshine levels will change fundamentally depending on which ‘stage’ you choose to play in which can limit which collectibles are available to you to find, meaning you’ll want to make sure you are heading into a stage that doesn’t have a general ‘theme’ to it if you are looking to grab the most items.

Gameplay aside one of the best things A Hat in Time has going for it its presentation. Its charming, funny, colorful, bright, cherry and CUTE. OHMYGOSH is this game an adorable one. Everywhere you look something in this game will make you go ‘aww’. Whether its our wonderfully confident and sassy protagonist or the cast of characters she has to put up with on her adventures or just the adorable roomba that cleans your space ship, this game will melt even the most jaded of hearts and put a smile on any player’s face. Add to the that the incredible soundtrack (featuring guest composer Grant Kirkhope) and you’ll find yourself tapping your feet as you set off to set the timeline right.

That being said, the game can be a bit rough around the edges, especially when it comes to the more technical aspects of the presentation. The graphics aren’t incredibly detailed, with simple polygons and shapes filling each area. Clipping and glitches are also a common sight throughout the adventure and while I never ran into anything that ruined the experience for me it was a bit jarring when Hat Girl would clip into a tree, disappear and return a few seconds later. The game also has this very strong blur effect for distant objects, which I get is used to mask loading times but its a very strong effect, one that makes it hard to focus on anything other than the foreground. Of course it all comes together very nicely to deliver a game that is charming, both in tone and in presentation.

Making it through A Hat in Time‘s campaign will run you about 6-7 hours depending on how much backtracking you end up doing and another 1-2 hours if you are going for 100% completion. Not a very long amount of time but considering the game runs for a third of the price of what ‘standard’ games go for these days and you have yourself a pretty solid deal. Their’s a few extra modes too like a one hit challenge and a speed-run challenge to entertain players looking for some more heart-pounding moments from the game but overall this game won’t take you too long to get through, but the sheer amount of variety makes it feel like perfect amount of time since you never really feel like you’re just going through the motions with this one.

A Hat in Time may have released late in the year but I can honestly say its one of my favorite games of 2017. Its charming and cute as heck and offers a style of platforming that you won’t get out of the other major 3D jumpers this year like Super Mario Odyssey and Yooka-Laylee. So while it may be a little rough around the edges and doesn’t give off the best first impression this is a game that is sweet to the core and has a big heart and a perfect way to wrap up an incredible year for gaming.

A copy of A Hat in Time was provided to Link-Cable by the publisher for the purpose of this review.