A bloody unique blend of twin-stick mechanics and puzzle solving.
Devolver Digital is an indie publisher worth keeping an eye on. They have one of the best catalogues on Switch made up of fantastic titles: The Messenger, Enter the Gungeon, and Katana Zero. But while they make a name for themselves with innovative new games, they also have a wonderful back catalogue from their early days of publishing PC games to choose from. Hotline Miami just seems like the most logical choice to bring to Switch. It highlights what Devolver Digital has become known for: an ultra violent experience with simple mechanics but with an opportunity to master a hidden complexity for those who choose to look for it.
The Hotline Miami Collection features both the 2012 original that was released for Windows and the 2015 follow up - Hotline Miami: Wrong Number. Both games have almost identical gameplay and follow the same storyline set in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in Miami. The original Hotline is set in 1989 Miami, with the player controlling an unnamed character who carries out the brutal murder of criminals in varying locations. Each level begins with a phone call that provides the address of a location and a seemingly innocent instruction that comes across as some sort of code word. Once at the location, the unnamed character enters the area and kills everyone found inside without getting himself killed in the process.
The Hotline Miami sequel generally follows the same pattern, a character arrives at a location with the objective of leaving no one alive. The story in Wrong Number covers events that led to the original, as well as events during the aftermath. Instead of playing as a single character, the missions follow a series of different characters who are all connected to the original protagonist. Most of the information is rather cryptic, so it likely will take a playthrough or two to really get a grasp on the whole picture. The main event really is the gameplay, so you don’t really need to follow along to have a good time.
Gameplay is the same throughout each of the Hotline titles: a top-down perspective of an area, with the sole purpose of killing everyone with the tools at your disposal. At first glance combat seems rather simple - just run through rooms punching and shooting your way to victory - but in practice it’s much more complicated than that. Bad guys kill you in one shot, and death can come within a millisecond of entering an enemies field of vision. Taking down enemies quickly becomes a strategic puzzle in which you’ll need to plan ahead which items to pick up and which rooms to enter in which order.
Controlling the character feels like most twin-stick shooters in that you move with the left stick and change the characters aiming with the right. One key difference I had to learn was a lock-on feature that would keep the character fixated on a single enemy. Regardless of your aiming or any enemies in your way, once a lock-on is set your character will always stay directed at them. It took a little while to get used to the targeting system, especially considering the high pace and fast action. Combat is fast and fluid; generally you start by knocking down an enemy, bashing his brains out, then using his weapon on the next. That may sound simple, but so much more has to be taken into consideration. Noise from firearms will attract nearby enemies, windows between rooms will give away your location if you’re not paying attention. Levels can be defeated in a number of different ways and a ranking system afterwards provides some incentive to replay rooms to maximize your score. It’s the type of battle system that has enough nuance to provide fans hours of creative thinking but may come across as fairly repetitive combat if you’re just looking to get through levels.
Not only is Hotline Miami an enjoyable time in its own right, you’ll immediately recognize the footprint it left behind. I was blown away by the similarities seen in more modern titles such as Katana Zero. The themes, mechanics, and aesthetics are all so similar that I was convinced it had to be the same developer. As a publisher, Devolver Digital has a deep understanding of its market and what their fans are looking for. If you think Katana Zero is a Game of the Year candidate, than you should have a real fun time with its inspiration.