Hat Kid Sets Sail
Downloadable content is a strange beast. Gaming publishers just seem to love milking every penny they can out of their games. This often results in pointless micro-transactions and dull, uninteresting DLC packages. That being said, sometimes you finish a really good game and just wish that there was more of it, only to discover that there are bonus DLC chapters in development and that very soon you’ll be able to continue playing. That’s how I felt when I first beat A Hat in Time and learned of the coming Seal the Deal DLC.
I grew up with 3D collect-a-thon platformers so I’m always on the lookout for anything that can recapture that nostalgia. A lot of the time, I wind up being disappointed, but AHiT delivers on every one of its level. There’s a real sense of charm that so many games strive towards yet so few actually achieve. Everything is colorful and exciting, from the protagonist Hat Kid, to the Mafia of Mafia Town and even the soul-taking shadow of the Subcon Forest, the Snatcher. Most importantly, A Hat in Time is fun. The screwball comedic styling works and actually got a few laughs out of me. The gameplay is fluid with some really solid platforming that’s easy to control and enjoyable to mess around with. The world demands to be explored, encouraging the player to wander off the beaten path and poke their nose into every nook and cranny that they can find.
I took the time to 100% the game and have no regrets. Every minute I spent with the game filled me with glee, and I waited with bated breath for Seal the Deal.
I can’t remember the last time I was this disappointed getting more of something I loved.
Seal the Deal adds two main features to A Hat in Time. Firstly, it adds a new story chapter, The Arctic Cruise. Hat Kid and a whole bunch of familiar faces from the base game set sail aboard the S.S Literally Can’t Sink. This is probably my single favorite level in a game full of fantastic levels. The ship feels great to explore, with a series of unique and entertaining rooms to bounce around. From the rooftop pool to an indoor casino, no matter where you are, there’s something new to clamber over.
Furthermore, the game’s humor is back in full force. I spent a good hour or so running around, ignoring all missions and just talking to the crew. Especially the cute little seals that run the ship and speak with a lisp. They are just adorable. Special mention to one in the pool showers that proudly says “egg” every time you walk past. I love him.
This section of the game works like every other: perform missions in order to earn Timepieces, the game’s main collectable. However, The Arctic Cruise is criminally short, coming in at three levels and a time rift—the game’s abstract, harder platforming challenges. To make matters worse, the first two missions feel a little samey. The first has you explore the ship to find 11 shards with one hidden in each room. The second involves you running from room to room to complete menial tasks like taking out trash. Both boil down to dashing between areas of the ship with little to no platforming challenges added in.
To make matters worse, once you’ve explored a section of the ship, that’s it. Nothing new will be added to that section that actually makes you want to return there again. Every other level in the game creates new and interesting ways to explore the worlds. Some see you delivering parcels on a scooter, while in others you cover yourself in mud to terrify its residents. Creating a really unique level only to fill it with fetch quests is a waste of potential.
However The Arctic Cruise isn’t the only new feature that Seal the Deal added. In addition to Seal the Deal’s new levels, The Snatcher is back with a new mode called Death Wish. This is a challenge mode, and it pulls no punches. From remixes of older levels with brutal twists, to new, insanely difficult platforming challenges, everything about Death Wish is a stressful gauntlet of platforming. I don’t like it.
Time to Die
I fully think that there’s a place for challenge modes in platformers. It can be fun testing your limits to discover just how good you are at a game. But Death Wish often felt unfair to me. Take ‘So You’re Back from Outer Space’ as an example. This stage creates a new platforming gauntlet above Mafia Town. While similar in style to an early level, it’s around a thousand times harder. This stage has some ridiculously tight jumps. A few feel really fun to get right, like a long jump where you must stagger your dive to get the needed distance. Others feel ridiculously poorly planned in order to frustrate the player. The final stretch is a gauntlet of moving bounce pads and tightropes that would be hard by itself. Couple it with homing missiles that knock you off and a lack of checkpoints, and it feels unfair.
I wanted to enjoy this mode, but some things just feel off about it. A Hat in Time was a charming romp through bright and cheery worlds, filled to the brim with goofy and lovable characters. It encouraged you to keep going no matter how tricky a section may be. Death Wish sees The Snatcher chiming in to mock the player. It counts your deaths as a constant reminder of your failures. It even to locks you out of some levels if you fail too many times in a row. Everything about this mode feels wrong and alien in such a cheerful game. This used to be the sort of game I would recommend to friends with kids; now I have to add in the caveat of “Don’t buy the DLC.”
The Final Nail in the Coffin
Where did it all go wrong?
When you buy Seal the Deal, you get the first level of Death Wish and the first act of The Arctic Cruise. If Death Wish isn’t for you, you may want to just put it down and enjoy the cruise. You may have an delightful time hopping around the boat, seeing friendly faces old and new. And then, when you finish act one, you may be really excited to play the next… only to discover that it’s gated off.
In order to unlock more of The Arctic Cruise, you have to play Death Wish.
It feels like developer Gears for Breakfast had their priorities wrong when they sat down and designed Seal the Deal. There’s a glimmer of the greatness that this DLC could have been. Not enough time was put into The Arctic Cruise, and Death Wish is so far removed from what actually made A Hat in Time fun to play in the first place. To me, good DLC gives you more of the same. It gives you an extra helping of something that you love, but there are so few moments in Seal the Deal that make me feel the way I did playing the game for the first time.
I’ve plugged around twenty hours into the DLC. I completed the new chapter, tackled some of the Death Wish challenges and breezed through a handful of new time rifts. I can honestly say the only time I really felt like I was playing A Hat in Time was the first twenty minutes or so aboard the boat. After that, everything was either a dull menial task or an unwelcome difficulty spike. I took my time with the new chapter and it still only lasted around two hours, the rest was an unpleasant slog through frustrating challenges.
Expect to be Underwhelmed
If you loved A Hat in Time, I would still recommend you play the DLC. For one, you’re supporting the developers behind a truly amazing experience; it’s not like Seal the Deal subtracts from that at all. And, secondly, it’s only five dollars.
There are still little sparks of life in this DLC—love letters to what made the base game great; the humor is back, the music is funky, and the seals really are so very adorable. Just don’t expect to be blown away. Explore the ship, collect just enough Death Wish seals to unlock the rest of the chapter, finish that, and then put it down.
Oh, and just one final teeny-weeny nag. If you’re a game developer and you’re considering making DLC for your game with a brand new spree of collectables, don’t change the player’s collectable percentage. I wore my 100% of A Hat in Time proudly, and Seal the Deal took that away from me. Just… make it 110% or something; don’t make it feel like my progress was actively taken away from me. Sure it’s a little thing, but that doesn’t mean it felt good.
(Editor’s note: Fortunately, as of the publishing of this review, Gears for Breakfast has patched out Seal of Time’s gating of content. Now, you no longer need to suffer through the Death Wish like I did; you can just jump in and play the Arctic Cruise portion of the DLC. It’s great that they took this criticism on board and addressed it quickly, and it gives me more hope for the next DLC package, but as it stands, Death Wish still feels like a flawed idea.)