Three hours into Gears for Breakfast’s new 3D platformer A Hat in Time, a startling but not unwelcome thought intruded upon the regular workings of my tiny creaking brainbox:
“I’m having fun with this.”
Google tells me that is what doctors call a heartbeat, and is often one of the major indicators of being alive. Well, you learn something new every day.
A Hat in Time is fun. It’s fun in that charming, bubbly, and clever way that the vast majority of videogames fail to even aspire to, let alone accomplish. The colors are bright, bold, and attractive; the writing is spectacularly funny (though I both laughed and wept over some flavor text about being a failed writer); and the locales are inventive and novel and invite the player to frolic through them as the cute-as-a-button silent protagonist, Hat Kid.
I often find that games which openly market themselves as fanciful adventures of childlike imagination stumble in the execution, all too often becoming oppressively-saccharine barrages of cloying whimsy that dull, rather than delight, our sense of joy. I am still coughing up treacle from the time Tearaway Unfolded nearly drowned me in sweetness, and thanks to Little Big Planet 3, I involuntarily flinch every time I hear Stephen Fry’s chipper voice.
It strikes me now that I’m not even sure I find most games fun. I know I certainly didn’t enjoy the few rounds I played of the beta for DICE’s new Star Wars-themed collectible card game, Battlefront II. I liked (I think) the couple dozen hours I spent with Destiny 2, but I’ll be darned if I can recall feeling at any time that warm sense of joyful pleasure that I ordinarily associate with the term fun outside the electronic mediums of entertainment. I can’t even begin to express how much I dread the thought of playing Middle-earth: Shadow of War, its self-serious orgy of violence and loot box gambling acting as a grim parody of the original novel’s themes of beauty, hope, and perseverance. The incoming gigantor open-world Assassin’s Creed: Origins stirs within me only the reluctant realization that I already have a laundry list of chores to perform in 2017 A.D. America and have neither the need nor the desire to travel to ancient Egypt to add to it.
I do sometimes wonder if I’m just tired of games. I grow exhausted just reading about the latest controversies around loot boxes, pre-order DLC, and all the other bizarre corporate practices that are legion in the AAA games space now—not to mention the incontrovertible problems of racism and sexism that are endemic in the online gaming sphere. I’ve become tired of all the mindless killing in games, which decades into the medium’s life is still the unfortunate idiom through which it primarily communicates its ideas.
So for now, I’m going to enjoy my time faffing about in A Hat in Time. I’m going to have fun helping a roller-disco-movie-producer penguin film a blockbuster about parades. I’m going to have fun doing bizarre chores for an evil spirit who can’t be bothered to do them himself. I’m going to have fun collecting quantum hourglasses and floating yarn balls and bits of toys, and knitting myself ludicrous hats that give me magic powers.
How many hats are in this game, anyway? Hang on, let me Google it. I’ll be back in a jiff.
Hello, what’s this all about? Let me put on my reading glasses.
“Jonathan ‘JonTron’ Jafari, a popular YouTuber whose racist and divisive political stances drew widespread criticism earlier this year, will soon be heard in one of the fall’s most promising indie games: A Hat in Time.”
Huh. Well. Hmm.
On second thought, if anyone needs me, I’ll be napping.