Fans of indie games have another wacky and fun title to add to their wish lists, thanks to Kenny Sun’s roguelite platformer Mr. Sun’s Hatbox. Published by Raw Fury, the game has an amusing premise, an addictive gameplay loop, and tosses in a huge helping of frustration for good measure.

The player works for a package delivery service, but when attempting to give Mr. Sun his hat box, everything goes wrong. Now, the company has set up shop in its client’s basement to launch a full-scale operation to recover the stolen goods, as specified in the service’s fine print.

A number of rooms can be built in the base of operations, each requiring varying sums of money or other milestones to unlock. There’s the very necessary and oft-used med bay, a black market for buying weapons and hats, a research lab to unlock upgrades, a brig for brainwashing captives, and everything else a hat recovery detail might need.

Anybody who’s played Landon Podbielski’s Duck Game will immediately recognize its influence on Mr. Sun’s Hatbox. The mission gameplay and ensuing chaos are very similar, as are many of the items used to complete those missions. With a variety of weapons to choose from — including the usual pistol and shotgun but also more silly things like a bar of soap or a baguette — players can take out opponents or attempt to sneak their way through a level. Even the bodies of vanquished enemies can be tossed around to take people down if there’s nothing else available.

mr suns hatbox mission

Players can also equip team members with hats that, even more than the weapons, add to the goofiness of Mr. Sun's Hatbox. The selection ranges from a standard hard hat to a dynamite headband, a treadmill, or the requisite pile of poo, each with varying utility and sometimes unforeseen downsides. The turret hat, for example, begins firing as soon as an enemy is within range, which might be helpful but can also inadvertently draw attention.

Most characters also start out with one or two quirks. Some are helpful like Quick Reflexes, which temporarily slows down time when spotted by an enemy, while others are detrimental like Photogenic, which allows the character to be spotted by security cameras even through walls. Choosing the correct character for a mission often determines success or failure, or at the very least can make what should otherwise be a simple task extremely tough.

Luckily, there is an experiment lab where unhelpful quirks can be removed, and useful ones can be distilled and injected into other characters. For the cost of a few hundred coins, a couple of in-game days, and some patience, players can craft fighters suited to different scenarios.

mr suns hatbox research lab

Like Duck Game, Mr. Sun’s Hatbox has a multiplayer component, including co-op for completing missions with a friend and a few PvP modes. But the game offers a fully enjoyable solo experience as well. It’s got nearly all the elements for success: a humorous story, cute characters, a catchy soundtrack, and compelling gameplay. However, in the beginning, Mr. Sun’s Hatbox can equally dish out fun and frustration and will make some people want to simultaneously throw their controller and keep playing.

Obviously, this is a question of temperament and the degree of challenge that one considers entertaining, and almost certainly, many of the infuriating scenarios are intentional and meant to be amusing. But they can push a little too far, especially if playing with permadeath on. One item’s mechanic can clash with another’s and lead to nearly unavoidable failure, or the level layout itself can be an unexpected obstacle.

As an example, Mr. Sun’s Hatbox has many timed missions, i.e. grab a package and reach the exit before the clock runs out. The player dons a hat with a spring that makes anybody landing on it immediately bounce off. A minute later, package in hand and the level’s end in sight, a series of unlucky events causes everything the character is carrying to fly across the room, where it all lands inconveniently in a hole. The package and springy hat are now superimposed, and any attempt to grab the former results in the player being bounced right back out. This continues for three increasingly anger-filled minutes until the timer runs out and the mission is failed.

mr suns hatbox base of operations spec ops

Particularly in the first few hours of playing, this unfortunately isn’t a rare occurrence. Sometimes multiple missions in a row will end in defeat, which makes success that much sweeter but also casts a feeling of frustration and futility over the whole experience. Myriad things can go wrong, and there are seemingly fewer ways to come out triumphant. As a result, many sessions with Mr. Sun’s Hatbox will end with some degree of irritation, especially in the beginning when it’s ironically most important to keep people interested.

This is exacerbated by the fact that, by default, the game has permadeath on. So if a soldier dies in a mission, that’s it. All the effort of leveling them up and tweaking their quirks is lost very easily, often through little fault of the player, which just adds to the exasperation. It is possible to turn off permadeath, which is almost a necessity, but that means no longer being able to earn achievements. The developer choosing to punish players in this way just adds salt to the wound, and that’s not the only moment of unnecessary harshness in the game.

mr suns hatbox weapons

Some missions involve up to three team members getting kidnapped and needing a rescue, and mysteriously, only the highest-level characters are targeted. Given the propensity for everything to go wrong in Mr. Sun's Hatbox, it’s easy to fail the rescue attempt or even accidentally kill the person needing to be rescued. For instance, the shark hat jumps at enemies, but what isn’t obvious is that it also jumps at kidnapped allies who are being saved, killing them immediately. This causes the mission to fail and all abducted characters to be permanently lost. Even with permadeath deliberately turned off.

The three highest-level characters are suddenly gone, and these are team members that, due to the time invested in developing them, the player will be most attached to. And because the missions are seemingly random, this can happen multiple times in a single play session. Punishing players for doing well by arbitrarily taking away their best team members, even when permadeath has been specifically disabled, is just unnecessary and feels unreasonably mean-spirited. It will undoubtedly cause some people to rage quit the game.

ms suns hatbox mission selection

Despite this, Mr. Sun’s Hatbox is akin to a sore tooth or bruise that is impossible to leave alone. There’s a kind of masochism inherent in the addicting gameplay that will keep many people coming back for more even when they were yelling at the game a few hours before. Once it gets rolling, the gameplay loop is incredibly fun. It’s just unfortunate that, primarily in the first few hours, the enjoyable experience gets interrupted so frequently by chaos that can lead to mission failure and anger.

Luckily, as the player progresses, builds an army of strong combatants with useful quirks, accumulates a stockpile of weapons and hats, and unlocks perks in the research lab, the game gets easier. The challenge definitely remains, but the balance begins to noticeably shift from frustration to fun. People jumping into Mr. Sun’s Hatbox should be prepared to get annoyed and occasionally exit the game feeling irked. But those who persevere will be rewarded with an indie roguelite that ticks all the boxes and is perfect for a quick, fulfilling play session.

Mr. Sun’s Hatbox is available on PC and Switch. Game Rant was provided a Steam code for this review.

mr suns hatbox main character
Mr Sun's Hatbox

The dastardly Mr Moon and his troublemakers have stolen Mr Sun’s hatbox delivery from a humble courier company. With the fate of an aspiring apparel business at stake, it’s up to you to build a team, stage a series of heists, and get it back.