To people that have never seen Zero Punctuation, Hatfall may just seem like a weird “what the hell is this,” indie game. Those familiar with ZP, the series of hilariously caustic reviews by Ben Croshaw on the Escapist, will immediately recognize the bright yellow background and Yahtzee, the hat-clad protagonist and Ben’s avatar. Fans will also expect that unique brand of biting British wit that Zero Punctuation is famous for delivering. And some people are just wondering what the hell a milliner is: they are hat designers, so it stands to reason this game is what their nightmares look like.
Yahztee fans will not be disappointed. Hatfall is a little indie game about collecting hats, yes, but without the humor it would be a dry experience. The objective is to catch hats by standing underneath them, which sounds easier than it is. You have to judge where the hat will land based on its shadow, which of course shrinks as it nears the ground. Tapping the screen moves you right or left; there’s no depth to worry about. A successful catch seats Yahztee at his desk, bracketed by sarcastic celebrations of your win, including requests for Yahztee to finally get some (will somebody please have sex with this man). Failure returns you to the menu screen.
As you progress through hats without dropping one, other characters will appear on screen with you, and they may be identical to your own character. That, of course, is one of the challenges. This is in addition to the intentional command response delay: It takes a moment for Yahtzee to move when you tap the screen.
Multiple items eventually fall, which means multiple shadows; misjudge, and you can end up impaled by a street sign or crushed by a fridge. After your untimely death, embarrassing signs pop up to indicate your idiocy– (points to ground) “That was a hat;” (points to anvil) “This is not a hat.”
Every few hats will belong to a wizard, after which you’ll find him waiting by your desk with an annoyed expression. He will then proceed to make your next level much more difficult by sending down various disruptions like storms or fountains of little munchkins that obscure the screen.
Each successful catch is rewarded with a hat and a sarcastic one liner, while embarrassing fumbles grant you a fart noise and the boot. Enough hats grant you a gift, like Satellite Hat Targeting that supposedly grants +1 to accuracy, or a gun that shoots beards. The gifts also unlock varied and various mini-games like a hat dating sim and a thrilling insurance claim filing game. Yeah. Insurance claims. They sound weird, but kudos to Ben for including the minigames, they’re fun and they break up the monotony of hatch-catching.
Besides the automatic gifts, which cost you nothing, there’s also a gift shop where you can spend caught hats to unlock different companions that will appear inconveniently on screen when you’re trying to catch your hat. Yes, I said spend and, as with many games that feature a currency, there is one option for an in-game purchase that doubles hats forever and unlocks the three locked shop items. At least since there’s only one thing to spend money on, it doesn’t feel like Croshaw made his indie game for the IAP grind at all.
Taken all together putting on hats becomes more intricate than it sounds, especially when you’re being mocked for every failure, as well as for some successes. That’s because Croshaw’s typical acerbic commentary rules over it all. The wit is the game’s main star. Hatfall is like a slide show designed by a pissed-off comedian.
That said, when you’ve gotten to the end of the slideshow, you’ll know. The jokes will all become familiar, and then they become a detriment to the deceptively simple and interesting mechanics. The point when you stop laughing at the humor is the moment the game becomes annoying. An option to turn off the commentary might have avoided this, but the humor is so integral it seems a shame to strip it. Oh yeah, there’s an inane story delivered via Star Wars-like scroll that you will forget immediately as it in no way affects the gameplay.
Hatfall offers everything gamers could want from a mobile indie game: variety, clever but simple gameplay and humor. The weird wit and styling are fun even if you don’t get the reference to Zero Punctuation. If someone isn’t already having sex with Ben Croshaw, he likely has a long list of takers after this game. As long as you continue to enjoy the jokes, you’ll continue to enjoy catching hats.
Deceptively simple controls and caustic humor make Hatfall fun to play in small doses.