Metal Gear Solid 5 mashes up with Spelunky for one of 2023’s most rewarding roguelikes

If you have even a passing familiarity with it Metal Gear solid 5: The phantom pain, you probably remember the Fulton recovery system. To supply the game’s basic building element with personnel and equipment, pick those things from the open world by attaching them to balloons, which float off-screen for easy transport back to the HQ of your rogue paramilitary operation. Either way, and particularly by the degree of an obsessively detailed military stealth action game, it’s a mighty silly flourish.

In fact, it’s so silly that it fits right in with the cartoon styles of Mr. Sun’s hatbox, as if it always belonged there. Because in this roguelike platformer developed by Kenny Sun, you’re also at the head of a rogue paramilitary operation that doesn’t abide by government boundaries or their laws (after all, you’re a delivery driver for a company called “Amazin”). The difference is that you operate from a customer’s basement to recover a stolen package and embark on missions similar to the dangerous 2D platforming levels of spelunky. Completing these missions will help fund your operation and give you both an arsenal and an army to make use of through mission rewards, black market purchases, and balloons attached to any of the useful-looking items and characters that you may encounter along the way.

Quite different than Metal gear, you don’t play as a single character. Instead, you individually control the randomly generated blob person(s) you’ve selected for a mission, where they may very well die permanently. The characters (besides various tongue-in-cheek nicknames) are mainly distinguished by their individual attributes, a series of traits and quirks that completely change the way you approach the game depending on a per-mission, per-agent basis. These variables are further complicated by the wide range of gear available, including ping pong rackets, shark hats, and inflatables, in addition to the typical selection of firearms, explosives, and sharps.

Image: Kenny Sun/Raw Fury

Particularly in the early hours of the game, many of the character traits are undesirable, and you’re essentially forced to get around what little you’ve got. One agent can have the very useful “taser” ability to stun any guard they touch. But they can also have ‘dry eye’, which causes the screen to go black every few seconds because they have to blink a lot.

Much of the game involves strategizing around these idiosyncrasies whenever possible. For example, if you break a guard’s neck, the “guilty conscience” trait sends your character hopping around in an uncontrollable panic for a few brief but potentially crucial seconds, during which they may crash into a trap or another guard’s line of sight. To get around this, you can make sure you kill exclusively (and presumably more impersonally) with weapons, or you can drag each body to a remote area where it’s safe for your assigned agent to shake off any post-kill jitters .

But it’s easy to lose sight of these strategies in the heat of the moment or in the pile of available units and equipment, and the chaotic chain reactions that result make Mr. Sun’s hatbox very special. For example, I accidentally hit my agent with their own boomerang, which activated the “weak gut” trait to shit immediately after being hit, which I then discovered requires a guard to investigate the origin of the brand new stench. On another mission, I learned the hard way that the “forgetful” trait removes the indicator for the one character you’re supposed to keep alive.

One of the agents in Mr.  Sun's Hatbox navigates a 2D platform level full of ladders, knobs and long chains to ride

Image: Kenny Sun/Raw Fury

The result is all the fun of a particularly out of control spelunky session with the added wrinkle of continued progress; building the base cunningly forces you to keep an eye on not only your equipment supplies, but also to consider your personnel and which of them you can spare. Consistently choosing one specific agent for missions will level them up, giving them more health as they grow from useless traits to more useful ones. But so that agent becomes more valuable over time, to the point where their combination of helpful traits is hard to justify taking risks on anything but the hardest and most critical missions, if at all. Additionally, mechanics such as the skill tree are based on the levels of characters you’ve benched to perform those tasks – a seasoned level 7 operative will contribute more to the skill tree research than a level 2 newcomer. urges you to stick your best units to desk duties, while putting the more unpredictable agents in the field on the line.

In the process, Mr. Sun’s hatbox brilliantly answers the age-old question of how to get players to take risks and engage with new mechanics rather than just sticking to familiar ones. Pushing you to court chaos creates a gameplay loop where so many of the most intense, inventive moments stem from hilarious failures.

It’s the rare game that’s as compelling to lose as it is to win.

Mr. Sun’s hatbox was released on April 20 on Nintendo Switch and Windows PC. The game was reviewed on PC using a download code from Raw Fury.

Vox Media has partnerships. These do not affect editorial content, although Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased through affiliate links. You can find additional information on Polygon’s Ethics Policy here.