Taco Graveyard’s Four Hats is an addictive action game that combines bite-sized mayhem with a quirky takeoff of The Beatles’ A Hard Days’ Night. In this fictional band’s freshman outing, they’re fleeing from mobs of rabid fans and paparazzi. It’s a lighthearted endeavor that definitely doesn’t take itself seriously: Think Canabalt if you were Edward Cullen fleeing a gaggle of Twilight fangirls.
Fluid animation with vivid locales, hilariously obnoxious fans, and silly obstacles courtesy of Stephen Emond (the artist behind Happyface, Winter Town, and Emo Boy) lend a colorful lilt to a solid premise. And, like all good casual iOS games, gameplay is relegated to a few simple taps.
Don’t stop running.
Each of the 36 stages tosses you right into the action with the band running for their lives through a range of different areas, from quiet suburbs to outer space. You can toggle between the Four Hats using the four-way selector at the bottom right of the screen. A context-sensitive action button allows different actions. Lead singer Parker uses a quick sprint to lead him to safety. Danny, the bassist, rocks a dapper top hat under which he can hide. Holly, keytar player, can float from point A to point B. Gordo, the drummer, can bash through any debris placed in his path.
While leaping over obstacles will usually keep you in the clear, lightning-quick swaps between each band member are often required. For instance, you may need to bust through some obstacles to gain distance from the cloud of fanboys and fangirls zooming toward you, but as you move ahead, you may find that floating from one rooftop to another may be necessary to avoid paparazzi below.
No time to drop the guitar.
Unfortunately, it’s never as simple as moving from left to right. You’ll need to change direction and orientation to forge the easiest path out of the public eye, often leaping over a pyramid of sedans or a line of mailboxes. The nearly constant switching puts a bit of a damper on the frenetic pace, and can be frustrating and disorienting until you become accustomed to it.
Double-tapping to switch between bandmates doesn’t always work as quickly as you need it to, and should you be touched by fans, the time you’re stunned is valuable time wasted. As a result, you’ll find yourself starting over more times than is necessary. This puts a kink in the game’s pick-up-and-play appeal, and could be frustrating enough to put off less-reflexive players. Perhaps eliminating that extra tap could improve the gameplay, and allow for a little more leeway.
With its four original musical tracks and tongue-in-cheek pop culture references, Four Hats is mostly a delightful hidden gem that only hits the occasional sour note. Switching between band members is daunting for new players (and even veterans), but eventually mastering the system is very satisfying. Can’t buy us love? We don’t think so. You can buy Four Hats for a buck, and it’s pretty close.