The mark of a truly great and truly hard platformer is when you fight your way through a level, die mere seconds beyond where you last died, and feel inspired by the fact that you’ve made it a bit farther. Many classics from the 8 bit era have this quality, and it’s something few games are able to emulate even with all the techological advances in modern video games. Top Hat, the new game by N94 Games, sets out to capture that era while remaining accessible to current sensibilities. While it hiccups a bit with its controls, it generally does a pretty great job of it.
Top Hat is reminiscent of 2D platformers both old and new. It bears resemblance to classics like Mega Man, with its finite specialty ammo, high difficulty, and bosses who give up new weapons. The title it really resembles, on the surface anyway, is Spelunky. Both games are similar in concept of having to navigate large areas, within each is a variety of optional sidequests and hidden treasures. This game however is far more forgiving as it gives you multiple lives and does not generate new levels each time you play.
In addition to being granted lives, your progression carries over within a level…to a point, anyway. Treasures you’ve collected will remain that way, so you don’t have to explore so much and can focus on getting back to where you died. After your lives are gone, however, it all resets. This is a welcome design choice as it maintains a healthy level of challenge but minimizes the frustration of having to do absolutely everything every single time.
The plot of Top Hat is established in seconds, and calling it an afterthought is almost giving it too much credit. Aside from a number of small sidequests along the way, there’s not a whole lot else to it and that’s just fine. For what it’s worth, the game is about the Hero who must retrieve his titular chapeau from a Stranger. He traverses multiple worlds and defeats different bosses in doing so. Indeed, the focus on Top Hat is all about intense gameplay. To be fair though, the sparse moments of story are profane, dumb, and actually pretty funny as well.
Like the classic NES games it is emulating, Top Hat is full of hidden traps and being successful at it is all about trial and error. As in the aforementioned Mega Man series, memorizing enemy and trap placements and putting together a mistake-free run is the key to beating each level. That sort of thing is a staple of video game design from that era, and while it is accurately represented by Top Hat, it being less about skill than rote memory makes for an experience that’s less enjoyable than it really could be.
Being a precision platformer, the absolute make-or-break condition of Top Hat‘s success is its controls which are passable but not as strong as they should be. The biggest issue with the way this game controls is that they are too responsive; it is too easy to overrun something and fall into a trap. Granted, I’m far from the most skillful player of this game but I’ve played enough platformers to know the difference between missing a jump due to my error versus the controls’ error, and this game causes the latter far too often.
Those issues aside, Top Hat is a lot of fun for both its challenge and its silly interludes, and for $10 it more than pays for itself. It’s not the prettiest game, but it will definitely put a smile on your face…when you’re not cursing it for killing you over and over again. You can pick up Top Hat on Steam.
[+Challenging and fun] [+Funny dialogue] [+Clever, knowing sense of humor] [-Slippery controls] [-Trial and error trumps skill]