The indie classic, and its considerably less popular sequel, finally make it to Switch but has time been kind to either game?
Considering how many classic indie games have made their way to the Switch already it is surprising that Hotline Miami has taken this long (and that it’s still hasn’t been on any Xbox console). Hotline Miami one of the best games, of any kind, from the last generation and it suits the Switch to a tee. But this new collection creates an interesting problem, by also including the horribly disappointing Hotline Miami 2.
Like many an indie game Hotline Miami doesn’t sound like much when you describe it, and certainly isn’t going to impress anyone from just looking at the screenshots. In gameplay terms the closest comparison is a cross between a top down shooter, such as coin-op classic Smash T.V., and a turn-based strategy like XCOM. Not that Hotline Miami is turn-based in any way but the overhead viewpoint and necessity for stealth leads you to plan out your assaults with a similar level of intricacy.
It’s by now an indie cliché but Hotline Miami is incredibly difficult, and both you and your opponents can be downed with just a single bullet. Although if you’re to have any chance you’ll wield firearms only as a last resort, because everyone will hear you using them – and although the artificial intelligence is pretty dim its hearing is excellent.
Stealth plays a large part in your success but except in one of the game’s more frustrating levels it never dominates the action. Thanks to the high difficultly level there’s also a strong puzzle element, as you probe your opponent’s abilities for weaknesses and future reference – as the game knowingly encourages old school trial and error tactics.
Your only real help is animal masks which you can don before a mission, which confer a wide variety of effects – from making attack dogs friendly to changing the display so it looks like you’re playing a Virtual Boy.
Hotline Miami is far more than it first appears, but the most striking element remains the violence. Whether you’re sending knives flying through windows or slicing people’s throats out with a broken bottle the level of violence is almost at torture porn levels. The pixelated graphics may be technically simplistic but they had us squeaming as much as any other more photorealistic game and the fact that the game only has a 16 age rating seems absolutely bizarre.
There’s purpose in the violence though and what initially seems like a throwaway storyline is anything but. We don’t want to spoil the ending, but the game does have something interesting to say about the violence it’s peddling. It might not be a very original point, but by the end it won’t just be the extreme difficultly that will have you questioning why you enjoyed the game.
Hotline Miami is not without its flaws; not only is the artificial intelligence extremely limited but almost all the boss battles abandon the open-ended strategy of the rest of the game for bog-standard pattern-learning. We’re not sure the save and checkpointing system needed to be quite as hateful as it is either, but then this is a game that dares you to complete it in one sitting and it’s all the more rewarding if you do.
We gave the original release, back in 2012, a deserved 9/10 but when it came to the sequel two years later, we awarded it no more than 5/10. The basics are the same as before – albeit even gorier and more difficult – but the level design is nowhere near as good. Everything is much more linear and instead of relying on your own on-the-fly tactics it feels more like you’re just discovering a pre-determined solution.
Hotline Miami 2 is far too obsessed with its story and unwisely deemphasises the masks in favour of different characters with very specific limitations, such as not being able to pick up weapons or only using one type of gun. This only furthers the impression that you’re just playing the game the way the developers want you to. Especially as the now much larger levels focus more on ranged combat than the close quarters brawling of the original.
The soundtrack for the sequel is arguably even better than the original but that’s the only improvement it offers. Of course, you don’t have to play it, but its inclusion has jacked up the price from what originally sold for less than £10. There are no extras for the Switch but apart from a couple of bugs, which will hopefully be swatted with a patch it all works very well – even if it is odd to see such extreme pixelated violence on a Nintendo console.
The original Hotline Miami may not be perfect but it’s clever and exploitative in a way few retail games would ever dare to be. That it makes you feel any emotion at all for the 2D sprites you’re massacring is an achievement; but that it makes you regret, if only for a moment, such gloriously entertaining violence is a miracle worth experiencing yourself.
Hotline Miami Collection
In Short: Hotline Miami remains one of the best indie games of the last decade but its deeply disappointingly sequel drags down this otherwise welcome compilation.
Pros: The first game is an inspired mix of influences, with deceptively ambitious storytelling and a challenge that is pitched just the right side of impossible. Fantastic soundtrack for both games.
Cons: Some balancing issues with the masks and save system on the first game, and disappointing boss battles. The sequel misunderstands everything that make the original great.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Dennaton Games
Release Date: 19th August 2019
Age Rating: 16
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