The Top Hat Club ($0.99) is a nostalgic little game in some ways. It’s a platformer with (mostly) single-screen stages that have light puzzle elements. It’s adapted from a browser game. It gives you the whole game for an affordable, simple up-front price. It carries no grand message, and uses a clean but distinct visual style. Oh, and you have to use touch controls. It feels like something that we would have seen pop up ten years ago and taken for granted, but perhaps here and now it is something we can appreciate more.
So yes, The Top Hat Club. A fancy place. Too fancy for the likes of you and me. But our little protagonist has a dream, and that dream is to sidle up to that fancy bar and sip some fancy wine with some fancy gentlemen. The problem is that you can’t even set foot in the door without meeting the dress code, and that means you’ve got to have a top hat. It’s right in the name and everything. Fortunately, top hats seem to just be laying around. All you have to do is don the hat and head for the door. So long as you have the hat, they have to let you go inside… right?
Well, anyway. The goal in most of the game’s thirty-plus stages is to pick up the hat from wherever in the stage it’s located and then make your way to the door. It sounds easy, and sometimes it is. The trick is that if you hit your head or otherwise disturb the hat, it will fall off. And wouldn’t you know it, the stages often have obstacles that will knock that hat clean off your head if you don’t approach things carefully. So you need to make sure you’ve planned a route that will take you to the exit without dropping the hat. You really do have to plan too, as many of the stages include disappearing platforms or other temporary elements that make it so that you can only have one crack at it.
You have unlimited lives, of course. It would be gauche these days if you did not. Annoyingly, whenever you die, lose your hat, or fail the stage for any other reason, a Game Over menu will pop up. You’ll have to manually hit that restart option each time, which is a design choice that runs against the current grain in a way I don’t really care for. I haven’t mentioned it yet, but each stage also has five coins to try to collect. Getting to the exit in most of the stages is a relatively simple affair, but getting the coins requires a good eye for the route you should take and precise execution. You will probably fail a lot, and having to hammer that restart instead of instantly respawning gets agitating.
My other bones to pick with this game come from the controls. First of all, you have to use the touch controls. No controller support right now and I see no indications of it being planned. That isn’t the end of the world, but if you’re going to have a mobile platformer that uses touch controls with virtual buttons as the only means of input, you have to make dead certain those controls are spot-on. Regrettably, I found these ones to be a bit lacking. The game would sometimes miss inputs on the virtual buttons, and that proved to be lethal in some stages. The combination of this issue and the lack of an automatic restart had me crawling the walls at times.
I suppose it speaks to the quality of the game itself that I was willing to persevere through these issues no matter how furious I got. The level designs here are quite good, with a nice balance of puzzles and platforming challenges to keep you on your toes. It seeds in some new gimmicks along the way to freshen things up, and there are some unexpected twists in certain levels that force you to apply the skills you’ve learned in new ways. It’s not a terribly long game on the whole, but it doesn’t overstay its welcome by even a minute. Getting all the coins is a good game extender, and there are a few little secrets to round things out nicely. You get a good buck’s worth out of it, to be sure.
The Top Hat Club feels like it fell out of a different era of the App Store, for better or worse. Mostly better, but I sure do wish that “worse” wasn’t there. It’s a fun platformer with clever stage designs and a fair bit of charm, and while it won’t last a long time it will absorb your attention well until the end. Some touch control issues and minor UI scrapes kept it from knocking my socks off completely, but given the highly reasonable price and everything else it has going for it, I think I can recommend this to mobile platformer fans.