|Genre||2D Platformer, Roguelite|
|Platforms||PS4, Xbox One, PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch (reviewed)|
|Release Date||April 20, 2023|
The life of an Amazon delivery driver is a rough one. Besides working for a company with…questionable work ethics, they have to deal with nature’s most fearsome predator: the consumer. Hell truly hath no fury like a customer scorned. But what if there was a game that took the humble delivery driver and raised them to the level of a special ops agent with one purpose: retrieving a lost package for a customer…at any means necessary. Enter Mr. Sun’s Hatbox, by one-man development team Kenny Sun, an absolutely bonkers slapstick rogue-lite platformer that asks the question, “What if you could play Metal Gear Solid, Celeste, and Death Stranding all at the exact same time?”
Violent Content: You can kill the opposition in a variety of ways, by firing guns, swinging melee weapons, and snapping necks. Mild cartoony spurts of blood show when you get a kill, along with equally cartoony squeals of pain. Most of the weapons are over-the-top, like boxing glove hats and laser guns, but a few are more realistic, like pistols and shotguns. There is a Research node called Organ Harvesting that allows you to capture corpses for money.
Crude Humor: Poop is an item, and causes you to smell bad and be detected by enemies.
Other Negative Elements: You repeatedly steal from enemies, taking gold, weapons, and even people. You then brainwash these enemies to fight for you.
Mr. Sun’s Hatbox is a game that definitely doesn’t take itself too seriously, and it lets you know that from the very beginning. Our story begins as a delivery driver arrives at the titular Mr. Sun’s Hatbox, with a package for Mr. Sun. Before he can sign off on the delivery, however, the evil Mr. Moon arrives with a gang of thugs to intercept the package. They run off before Mr. Sun even knows what hit him, and the intrepid delivery person pledges to return the package, no matter the cost. After all, their company has a delivery guarantee to uphold. But this won’t be a simple matter of finding an address. This calls for extreme measures. The company lays claim to Mr. Sun’s basement, using it as a base of operations as they launch a full assault on the forces of Mr. Moon in an effort to get that package.
The game has two main phases: action stages and base-building/management. Each in-game day, you’ll start in Mr. Sun’s basement. You begin the game with a mission scanner and staff room, but as you play, you’ll unlock more rooms that will net you equipment, upgrades, and more staff that you can use on runs. To begin a run, you’ll need to scan for missions. Each scan will reveal three missions, two side and one main story mission. The main difference between the two isn’t so much rewards as it is progression. All missions will net you gold and items for your future runs, but only story missions actually move you forward in the story. They do this by filling a heist meter when you clear them. Once that meter is full, you’ll be able to attempt a Hat Heist. There are a total of 5 Hat Heists in the game, serving as “final bosses” of areas on the map. Once you’ve completed 5 Hat Heists and collected the 5 Magic Hats, you’ll be able to take on Mr. Moon and retrieve that beloved package.
Right off the bat, the presentation is stunning. While I do enjoy pixel art, its overuse in recent games has tempered my love for it a bit. However, Mr. Sun’s Hatbox’s simple little characters have a surprising amount of expression for such simple graphics. The animations are fluid and creative, and while the characters are essentially all reskins of the same basic four designs, they’re still charming. The music, too, is a lot of fun. Each of the main areas of the game has a unique theme, and they fit perfectly. My personal favorite is the Clouds area, which has this eerie acapella tune, rendered even spookier by the Rugrats-esque synthesized voices that sing it. It’s absolutely bizarre, but it really adds to the overall over-the-top tone of the game. When you’re caught, the alarms even blare to the beat of the music, which really emphasizes the attention to detail.
As far as gameplay, the base-building is probably the most unique aspect of the game, especially for a 2D platformer. You get a total of 9 spaces to build a base with the given modules. You’ll unlock everything from a research lab that grants you permanent upgrades in battle to a black market where you can buy operatives and complete contracts for a little extra gold. There’s not a whole lot of options when it comes to customization, since each room has only one design. You really only get to choose the location, and it doesn’t really matter where you put things. The biggest decision you have to make is which rooms you choose, as there are more available than there are slots. Not every room is necessary to beat the game, so it’s up to you which will serve you best in the long run.
As for the actual runs, they’re simple in concept, but the game’s unique blend of elements means that it gets complex pretty quickly. Every mission involves one of a few goals, whether that’s capturing a target, neutralizing a target, delivering a file or hatbox, or collecting a certain amount of gold. To begin each level, you’ll pick a character, along with a hat and a weapon, and enter. Each level is a 2D platforming stage. You control your character with the left stick, and you can aim your weapon with the right stick. All you have to do is shoot, sneak, or slaughter your way to your chosen goal. How you do that is completely up to you, and the game will let you face the consequences whatever your choice.
In each level, you’re able to capture weapons, hats, and enemies with combat balloons, at the cost of using up some of your time. Captured enemies can then be brainwashed back at the base to serve as operatives in future runs. The main twist is, if you die, you lose your operative permanently, with all their upgrades and weapons. This means that you’re welcome to send your best man in on a random mission, but if you slip up and die, you’ve just lost a powerful ally for some of the harder missions. Each loadout is a game of risk and reward, and it keeps planning missions interesting throughout.
The platforming controls are quick and snappy, and it’s pretty easy to make jumps reliably. I never had a huge issue with telling where I was going to land or how far a particular jump was going to go. Your movement speed is good, and the enemies’ AI gives you enough time to notice that you’re being spotted and get out of the way without being too easy to avoid. What complicates matters is what the game calls “quirks.” Every character has a set of quirks that changes the way they play. There’s way too many to list here, but to give you a basic overview, some affect a character’s aim, some affect their reaction to being caught, some affect their movement speed when holding objects, et cetera. The idea here is to make every run different depending on your character, forcing you to employ different strategies to achieve your goal.
This mechanic, while unique and clever in concept, falters when put into practice. It would be fine if you had one or two quirks to deal with, but some characters have up to five or six. And while the characters “grow out” of quirks as they level up, they also gain buffs and other quirks that can be positive or negative depending on your playstyle as they do so. It’s simply too much to keep track of, and there were times when I was confused that certain actions didn’t work because of a quirk that got lost in the shuffle. I lost some good operatives because of something I just forgot in the chaos.
The weapon system is nothing short of impressive, with, once again, a selection far too expansive to list here. You have both weapons and hats, and the hats can act as weapons of their own. While I appreciate the variety, it’s really tough to tell what weapon will be useful for a given stage, since each level is randomly generated. The game gives you a vague threat level, which will help you gauge how many enemies you’ll be facing, and while it’s true that each environment shares some similar features, it’s hard to tell if you’re going to need a wide-firing weapon or a more tactical approach on any given run. Besides that, a lot of the weapons feel exactly the same. The only ones that stuck out to me were the Swapper, which allows you to, you guessed it, swap places with anything you shoot, and the Cannon, which completely obliterates anything in front of you. Other than that, it felt like I was picking weapons at random and hoping for the best.
And yet again, here rises an issue. The game’s chibi-esque artstyle is cute, but it makes it extremely hard to keep track of weapons and hats on the battlefield. Besides that, the hats’ effects apply even when they’re not being worn. So, if by some unlucky chance, a boxing glove hat ends up right next to a target you need to capture, you’ll have a beast of a time getting close enough to it without getting launched into the stratosphere. On one run, I jumped from a platform, landed on a boxing glove hat, launched into the air stunned, then landed back on the glove hat only to repeat the process. This cycle of torture repeated 5 or 6 times before the physics engine mercifully let me recover and be on my not-so-merry way.
These issues would be annoying enough on their own, if not for one final, and pretty substantial, issue. Once you’re found, the alarms start blaring. This is fine on earlier levels, but on later levels filled with enemies, the Switch practically poops its pants. With each alarm blare, the lag reaches near unplayable levels, and it’s hard to even tell where you’re going, let alone if a guard is about to splatter you with a shotgun. This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the aforementioned permadeath, but losing a good character because you can’t control them is just unfair. This is exacerbated by the fact that there aren’t any invincibility frames when getting hit, meaning you can take a ton of damage all at once, and when the game is lagging, that can really add up.
The randomization element is both the game’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness. On the one hand, every single run is unique, and you’re not able to just memorize layouts to cheese your way through. On the other, it’s really easy to find yourself in an impossible situation that you just can’t win. On one mission, I got to the Magic Hat I was supposed to steal, only for the alarms to go off, just like like they’re supposed to. But since the hat spawned right at the edge of a platform, when I took it off its pedestal, it fell off the platform and shattered, causing me to completely lose the mission. Then, the lag from the alarms made it impossible for me to escape. I lost my only armored character because I couldn’t react to what the game was throwing at me. Another time, an enemy shot me with a Swapper, which placed me right on top of a banana peel and again sent me flying, with no way for me to react. These situations happened a lot, with my poor operatives acting as little more than a ball in a pachinko machine of bullets and hate.
And finally, the game is plagued by a few glitches. On one mission, I had captured my objective and was going up the ending staircase, when an enemy walked by the door. Even though I had already finished the level, the game counted that as a hit and made me drop my package. And since you can’t go back to previous floors, I failed the mission and had to finish the entire thing just to get told as much. It only happened once in my playthrough, but it was still infuriating. Another time, a custom control remap I’d applied didn’t work, and I found that out the hard way by my character not jumping. It was just a quick menu visit away, but still weird.
Still, the main game was intriguing and addicting enough for me to push through all that to the end. I don’t want to spoil the final mission, but let me just say this: it is several times longer than any other mission in the game; a grueling gauntlet of everything the game has to throw at you, ending with a showdown with Mr. Moon. And ultimately… it’s incredibly anticlimactic. There’s no fanfare to the final boss, and the final cutscene is woefully short before fading to credits. Your only reward for completing the game is a New Game+ mode. I wasn’t expecting Spider-Man levels of storytelling, but something more than a few sentences of dialogue would have been nice.
So, with all that said, is Mr. Sun’s Hatbox a bad game? Not in the slightest. The quality is evident from the moment you start it up, with its beautiful pixel art and eclectic soundtrack, down to its unique and fleshed out mechanics. The gameplay is snappy and kinetic, and the randomized elements make what could easily be just another simplistic platformer into a robust and challenging experience, even if they do lead to some frustrating situations. That doesn’t negate the critiques I have, as they really did affect my time with the game, but it would be unfair to let those ruin the overall experience I got, especially from a one-man developer. The game’s main problem is its ambition. I think it just set out to do more than it needed to, and the cracks show a bit around the edges.
Mr. Sun’s Hatbox knows exactly what it wants to do, and pulls out all the stops on its way there. And while some of those stops maybe should have stayed put, such as a more focused and intentional weapons and quirk system, all in all, it succeeds. It’s a fun, quirky, slapstick platformer that doesn’t overstay its welcome, and it’s got a buttload of charm and personality to boot. If you’re a fan of games like Super Crate Box with their frantic pace and fun art style, and you’re a more patient person than I am, give this one a shot. You don’t even need to pay shipping and handling.
The Bottom Line
Mr. Sun's Hatbox comes out swinging with beautiful art, a fun personality and a unique gameplay twist, and while it may not succeed at everything it attempts, it's a worthwhile experience nonetheless.