Review – Hotline Miami Collection (Switch)
I never played a Hotline Miami game before, so when the game was dropped as a surprise during Nintendo’s Indie Gamescom showing, I was excited. I had heard the hype surrounding it before. Turns out, the hype was right. Sold as a collection on the Switch, both games are now bundled together and this should make you excited as well.
The original Hotline Miami is set in the late 1980’s. You play as an unnamed masked killer the community has dubbed “Jacket”. Each chapter has Jacket receiving a phone call telling him to go to a location and kill everyone there. It’s a relatively simple story that unfolds more and more as the game progresses with some surprising twists and developments. Whilst it doesn’t break new grounds story-wise, it was enjoyable.
Played from a top down point of view, the Hotline Miami series is about murdering entire rooms of enemies in a gloriously bloody fashion as you paint the hallways red. You can use guns, melee weapons, as well as the environment to take down your enemies. Within ten seconds of action in Hotline Miami you can kick down a door to take out any enemies directly behind it, then fill the room with submachine-gun bullets, then throw an empty gun at a poor enemy, pick up their bat, and beat them to death with it. That’s if things go to plan, of course.
Death comes fast and often in Hotline Miami. Very rarely do your plans work; not only do your enemies die in one-hit, but you do as well. Enemy reactions are blisteringly fast as they are able to pull of shots in the blink of an eye setting you back to last checkpoint. Whilst punishing, it is also extremely fair most of the time and the vast majority of my deaths were due to my fault. Each death is a learning experience and as you learn the layouts of the levels, you’ll know what action you need to do to deal with each room until the entire floor is clear. Shooting guns will attract nearby enemies to your position (a bit inconsistent) which you can turn into an advantage, whilst using melee weapons is silent and allows you to systematically take out enemies one by one. It’s an incredibly addictive gameplay loop in which I didn’t want to put the game down until I overcame particularly challenging sections.
Each time you finish a level, you get to trek back through all the death that you have caused and admire it. That’s when your score gets added up. Achieving high scores gets you unlockable items, more weapons will spawn throughout the world, and most importantly, you get game changing masks.
Whilst fair there are a number of difficulty spikes and things to be aware of, often times deaths come from off-screen enemies. Whilst annoying initially, it became a part of my run to move the camera manually to see what is just out of range. When a difficulty spike does come, it comes in hard. The final boss in particular needed perfect movement to win and just wasn’t much fun. Luckily the bigger difficulty spikes are few and far between. Late in the game there is a forced stealth section where you can’t fight back and it was just horrendous.
The second game in the collection, Wrong Number, acts as both a prequel and sequel to the original game. It expands the world in surprising ways whilst answering (or not answering) lingering questions the end of the first game left. It’s very Tarantino-esque in the best of ways and keeps things interesting.
In many ways, Wrong Number is still the same Hotline Miami and that is a very good thing. The gameplay is still fast, brutal, and even more challenging, but there are some key differences that change the experience in interesting ways. New playable characters come into play replace Jacket at certain points in the story, whilst there are less masks that provide a much more drastic experience. For example, the mask that boosts your melee attacks has now been modified to not allow weapon pick ups. Your choice in mask becomes a more tactical decision as your gameplay style will end up fitting completely around it.
Chapters in Wrong Number are much bigger than before, which can lead to some issues with even more deaths from off-screen enemies. Even when moving the camera, there are multiple section where you won’t be able to see what’s happening until its too late. But even with this issue, it didn’t impact the overall experience.
Wrong Number is bigger and more ambitious than the original game, but the larger levels can be a mixed bag, I found the level design to be better in the original game. It’s still a great game in it’s own right though, being much more ambitious than the original and doubling the length of the story to a generous eight hours.
The sound design in both games is perfection. Featuring a chill synthwave and disco theme to set the stage whilst ramping up when the action kicks off. I could listen to the soundtrack all day. Weapons also have a very powerful and satisfying sound, making them feel just that bit better.
Visually, Hotline Miami just fits brilliantly with neon bright colours and wonderfully designed levels. Subtle things, such as the background flashing on gunshots or changing colours throughout the game, keeps things interesting. Whilst it’s usually clear what is going on at all times, stacked up enemies can be hard to distinguish and the visual queue for locking on could stand out a bit more.
Playing both of these games on the Switch is a joy. As expected, the gameplay is smooth and transitioned over nicely. The lock-on system can be best described as inconsistent; not locking onto the right enemies and causing quite a few deaths, so it’s best not to rely on it too much. Hotline Miami also makes use of the Switch’s touchscreen to allow small camera movements to see what’s just off-screen. Though Hotline Miami 2 is missing the level editor, an understandable exclusion due to the controls, but a few custom levels from the PC version could have went a long way to extending the already strong life-span.
Every chance that I’ve had before to play the Hotline Miami series, I passed upon for some reason. It’s difficult, ultra-violent, stylish, and most importantly, a lot of fun to play. I’m kicking myself for not playing it sooner, but I’m so happy to have finally experienced it now.
Visually stylish experience, though a few issues crop up and it lacks variety.
Ultra-violent gameplay is a total blast to play.
The retro electronic soundtrack is perfect.
Difficult and stylish. Hotline Miami on the Switch is brilliant.
Final Verdict: 9.0
Hotline Miami 1 & 2 is available now on Switch, PC, Xbox One, and Playstation 4.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Hotline Miami Collection was provided by the publisher.