Every so often, something crops up that makes me pause. There are plenty of excellent and wonderful games on the Nintendo Switch, and Ratalaika Games have done a fairly stellar job of injecting plenty of fun, sometimes humdrum but overall great titles onto the eShop. Now, seemingly out of nowhere, a personalized blast of the past has landed on my desk, coming in from Kitsune Games. However, when I last played this game, it was published by a developer called Eniko, and was recommended to me by a friend I met at BitSummit who worked on it. The demo was fun and enough for me to give it a serious consideration, and, years later, I’m happy to play it all over again on the Nintendo Switch. Welcome to Ultra Hat Dimension.
The Spluffs are an adorable, magical species who love nothing more than wearing hats, and you, dear player (who is named Bea), have been elected their winner of the Spluff Kingdom’s annual hat design competition! This is an especially prestigious honour, as you’re the first non-Spluff to ever win, and certainly the first person who exists in a different dimension to even enter the contest, much less come out on top. As Bea arrives in the Kingdom to help celebrate the Hat Designers Winner’s Ball, something odd happens. It seems some Spluff isn’t happy about things and has used a magical hat to turn all the Spluffs against each other…and against you! What on earth is happening??? Get through five floors of puzzlement mayhem to figure out the cause of this curse and help the peaceful Spluffs get back to their old ways.
Ultra Hat Dimension is a room-based puzzler, giving me serious Adventures of Lolo vibes, though with a bit of a twist in the complexity. Ultimately, Bea has one goal for each of the levels per floor: get the key and get out of the game. As simple as that sounds, the problem is the Spluffs are scattered around, and each has a tendency to punch you the second you’re in arms reach (one tile length in the primary four directions). Though the punches don’t hurt in the traditional sense, they can push you back and prevent you from going through the obvious route to your goal. The solution presents itself as thus: hats. For whatever reason, the curse on the Spluffs won’t affect you if you’re wearing the same as they, so a witch hat Spluff won’t punch you if you’re also wearing a witch hat. As time goes on, Bea learns some other tricks, including expending a hat to send another Spluff flying five tiles in one direction, and learning that different Spluffs will interact with each other in certain ways when they touch (spoiler: lots of punching).
In terms of puzzlement, Ultra Hat Dimension has an unusual curve that takes some getting used to. For example, you go through the first two stages to get a handle on the basic principles, and then the third level took me WAY too long to figure out the safest pathway to get to the door. Introducing the new mechanics gives you a minor reprieve of a stage so you can best see how these new details work, and then it’s right back into some seriously monstrous situations. What I really like about it is that the game challenges you to frequently think for yourself. For example, many levels will have multiple hats strewn about, offering the illusion of choice, but, frequently, you’ll only need a couple of hats (or maybe only one) in order to find the exit. In the same vein, sometimes it might seem like the answer is too easy or too straightforward, and you’ll psych yourself out in the process and complicate the game unnecessarily. Like, when the concept of water is first introduced, you’d be surprised how many stages can be accomplished by just walking ahead into the river and not even caring about Spluffs for the most part. Don’t think that Bea will drown or something: it’s not that kind of game.
What’s really great is that there is a fair amount of meat in this title as well. Ultra Hat Dimension comes across as something incredibly benign because of the presentation, but the production of the level design ramps up considerably once you cross into the fourth floor. This is where the Nintendo Switch’s options allow you to zoom in or out of the game to a certain magnification can really help. Sometimes, being able to see the whole picture is important, but there are just as many times where a closer look at the details give you a keener sense of which way might be the safest, strongest pathway. There are plenty of chances to use an Undo, which have a limited number, and, at first, these seem trivial and silly, since resetting is often faster. But when you’re fifteen minutes into a single level because Fab is a MONSTER for setting up the Spluffs this way and you just realized you took a singularly wrong step that puts you into a Spluff punch loop, maybe just a quick step back is a better option. The best part is that there is inherent replay value simply because you might want to go back and try to accomplish different stages faster, cleaner, or just in a better use of hat time.
This whole package wouldn’t work nearly as well if Ultra Hat Dimension wasn’t so incredibly endearing. The graphical design of the sprites is cute, detailed but still pixelated enough to put you into that classic game mindset. The soundtrack of music is light, ambient chamber music, as though the musical accompaniment to the Ball wasn’t told that everything was cancelled because of evil influence, and they’re still just playing because, hey, a gig’s a gig. And then there are the sound effects. Sound effects are one of those things that you can buy an asset pack for a couple of bucks off Steam or Itch.io or any number of places nowadays, so it takes something to make them yourself. It’s even better when it’s clearly just someone making the noises themselves, with their mouths, and calling that the effect. Hearing the distinct “Pow” every time a Spluff punches you, or the polite “Move Please” when Bea shoves one is never not funny. And the “digga-dun” of picking up the keys. It’s wonderful. It adds this air of whimsy to the whole thing that reminds you that, sometimes, video games are just made by people who like games and like fun.
Ultra Hat Dimension may have flown under my a radar in the past, but, with Ratalaika and Kitsune Games pushing it to the forefront, it will hopefully make its way onto many screens and into many hearts with this new console release. The Nintendo Switch is the perfect home: it’s fanciful, it’s portable, and it doesn’t ask a lot in terms of commitment and install size. It’s relaxing, and I could play and giggle away the afternoon as I try to help out the Spluffs with their hat related issues. If you’ve got a little time for a wonderful puzzle adventure, you’ve got time for Ultra Hat Dimension.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Nintendo Switch code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ultra Hat Dimension Review
Gameplay - 8/10
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Replay Value - 8/10
Avoid getting punched, encourage others to punch and put on a series of festive hats in this delightful puzzle adventure!